This was the moment at the Barclays Center last night that the entire upper deck—populated by significantly more Lakers than Nets fans, already—erupted in united awe. My friend leaned into a stranger, hand on his head, and the guy next to me yelled out the universal cry that stands for holy-shit-did-you-see-that-dunk-oops-I-just-threw-my-beer: WHAAAAAAAAAA?!?
The Lakers won in Brooklyn last night, 92-83, without Dwight Howard or Metta World Peace but with a Kobe we haven't seen too much of lately: the one who plays very well not because he is bitter and must win, but because he is very good and capable of making his team win. It was really Steve Blake who gave the Lakers the final offensive push they needed last night—he scored all seven of his points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, when L.A. pulled away—but it is this dunk that slew the shiniest new arena in basketball. It couldn't have done much for Gerald Wallace's and Kris Humphries's self-esteem, either.
Kobe, at 34 years old and with brittle knees and a bum shoulder, can still explode like young Kobe with a mini-fro and an easy smile. You can see, in this super-slow-mo video the NBA has already produced, the very moment he decides to do so against Wallace. It's right at the four-second mark, when both his feet levitate in a split-second of hesitation, and then his left shoulder drops. Bryant told Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski last night that he suspected the Nets defenders were expecting a pass, and that's why they were so slow to help off their men from the perimeter.
''I think everybody's been drinking the 'Kobe pass' Kool-Aid," he said, "so everybody kind of stayed on the perimeter on the shooters and it just parted like the Red Sea."
That might be true, but it's also a rare instance of Kobe trying on some version of modesty: the Nets were simply too slow to get to him because Kobe was too quick. Even from the upper deck, we knew what was coming as soon as he turned the corner on Wallace. It was inevitable because Kobe had to shoot for the Lakers to win, and it was inevitable because Kobe can only do humility and restraint for so long.