Kobe Bryant's Air Balls Against Jazz “Shaped” Him

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant talked about the impact of shooting air balls as a rookie against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Playoffs

Kobe Bryant's official status is questionable against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, but Bryant will try to play, just as he did in Oakland two nights earlier.

Utah plays an acknowledged instrumental role in Bryant's career development, as the skinny 18-year-old rookie got his first taste of failure in the NBA playoffs against the Jazz back in 1997. Trailing the Conference Semifinals 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 in Utah, Bryant got the ball and took a shot that could have been the potential game-winner in regulation—air ball. In overtime, Bryant got a look at a wide open three—another air ball. Then, Bryant attempted a between the legs dribble and pulled up for a long straight away three-pointer—another air ball. With the Lakers trailing by three points in overtime, Bryant got the ball and launched a potential game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds remaining in the game—air ball.

"I really thought that was the defining moment of (Bryant's) career," former Lakers general manager Jerry West said on Thursday. "I think that's one of the things that spurred him to greatness. He wasn't going to allow himself to fail."

After Thursday's loss in Oakland, Bryant also took a moment to reflect on how the air ball had shaped him.

"It was an early turning point for me," Bryant said. "At 18 years old, it was gut check time. I look back at it now with fond memories of it, but back then, it was misery."

"It helped shape me," Bryant continued. "A lot of times as a young player, you don't see how a situation like that can pay off in the end. But if you use it to drive you, use it to motivate you, then, you can stand where I'm standing now and look back at it with a lot of fond memories."

Bryant said that as soon as the team returned him, he went to the gym and shot until the sun came up, and his off-season consisted of similar time spent in the gymnasium obsessively working to ensure that he would not have a repeat performance.

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"When (Bryant) came back next year, it was a different person that he was the year before," West said. "That was not going to happen again."

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