Kobe Bryant, aka the Black Mamba. There is nothing left to write about the man anymore. His long journey with their share of ups and downs as a [kid from Lower Merion High in Philly] to one of the Greats of all time of the Game has been documented extensively in visual as well as print media
It’s going to be weird seeing the league without the Mamba feeding off the love of the Lakers fans and hate of, well most of the other teams that he tormented for so many years. An entire generation of basketball fans grew up watching Kobe taunt and twist the knifes in their beloved teams, including me. So, in celebration of this legend’s last bow in the most Kobe way possible, here are 20 moments that we feel are the greatest for you to remember him by forever.
1.Kobe announces himself with the Slam Dunk Contest
The Mamba announced his arrival in the most Mamba way possible, dominating and winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest that included a lineup of Ray Allen(!), Chris Carr, Darvin Ham, Michael Finley and Bob Sura despite being a reserve for the Lakers. Just look at the panache and cockiness of that kid. Kobe finished the first round in 3rd place, 7 points behind Carr. He then went on to win the competition by a whopping 49 points ahead of Carr to become the youngest ever Slam Dunk Champion.
2.Airballs vs the Jazz
This was just as brash as an 18 year old could get, playing his first post season ever with this team trusting him with the ball for the clutch shots to help them stay alive in the playoffs series. Kobe had an airball party though and the Jazz closed out the game and the first round playoffs series, 4-1. The Mamba would later on acknowledge this moment as a turning point in his career, saying “I look back at it now with fond memories. Back then, it was misery. It helped shape me.”
3.First ever All-Star Game Appearance
Despite still being used as a reserve and a sixth man by LA Lakers coach Del Harris Kobe made his first of 19 consecutive All-Star game appearances in 1998, beating out the legendary Clyde Drexler, John Stockton and Jason Kidd to start the game for the Western Conference. He became the only teen to start an all-star game, a record that still stands today. The game also marked the passing of torch from His Airness, Michael Jordan to the Mamba as they battled it out amidst the glamorous Madison Square Garden. He led the scoring for the West Team with 18 points. The game also saw the first of one of the most famed one-two punches of all time in the NBA: Shaq to Kobe or the other way.
4.Game 7, 2000 Western Conference Finals
The Lakers’ road to their first NBA title since 1991 was tougher than most fans remember now. They had to battle a Blazers team that would not just go away to book that spot in the finals. Trailing 3-1, the Blazers took games 5 and 6 to drag the series into a crucial game 7. And for the most part of the final game, the Blazers looked like they had one foot in the Finals. Until the Shaq-Kobe show began in the fourth quarter. Kobe finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 blocks as he was vital to a 31-13 blowout that helped the Lakers dispose of the Blazers finally. One of those assists included an iconic alley-oop to Shaq and it was just pure poetry in motion. At just a tender 21 years, the Mamba came of age, on one of the biggest stages in the world.
5.Taste of first Success
With the arrival of the Zen Master Phil Jackson as the head coach, Kobe Bryant became a part of his famed [Triangle Offense system] along with Shaq and a bunch of experienced players. The duo totally annihilated the Pacers, who were led to the Eastern Conference title by the legendary Larry Bird. The duo led the Lakers to their first title since 1991 in a 6 game series. Shaq was more dominant of the duo and this would later lead to critics saying that Shaq was more a vital cog to this Lakers machine than Kobe. The Mamba though, would shut out these critics later, in his own style as he single handedly led the Lakers to wins in the games 4 and 6, showing us the glimpses of the clutch Kobe that we all came to know. Shaq was fouled out midway through OT and only Kobe’s 3 straight buckets helped the Lakers to the win and stay ahead in the series. His 5 free throws in the dying seconds of the game 6 was all that separated the two teams. Kobe won his first ring in his 4th season while Jordan had to wait for 7. LeBron took 9 seasons to win his first ring. This taste of success just left the Mamba thirsting for even more.
6. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, 2001
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals saw the top 2 in Spurs and Lakers seeds go head to head. And a 22 year old Kobe dominated and totally humiliated the so called ‘Twin Towers’ duo of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, supposed to be the best defensive duo at that time in the league. Kobe went off for 45 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists as the Lakers took the game, away at the AT&T Center nothing less. This set the tone for the rest of the series as the #2 seed Lakers pushed aside the #1 seeded Spurs in 6 games to make it back-to-back finals and titles after they disposed off the Iverson led 76ers easily.
7.Game 3 of the 2002 Finals
The Kobe-Shaq duo was unstoppable still as they led the Lakers to a famous 3peat, sweeping the New Jersey Nets this time. This was a time Kobe was still viewed as a foil to the dominant man mountain Shaq. Kobe showed in game 3 as he has done many times before that he was not someone who was there for the ride along. He went for 36 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks that helped the Lakers take an authoritative 3-0 lead in the series. He was his usual clutch self in the dying seconds of the game, hitting a 10 footer to put the Lakers ahead by 4 with 20 seconds to go. This was the last championship that Shaq and Kobe would win together.
You heard that right. An entire month was a highlight in the career of the Mamba. He averaged a jaw dropping 40.6 points and went for at least 40 points in 9 consecutive games in a span of 14 days. He tied His Airness’ 40 point streak. He scored 46 and 40 against the Knicks, 42 and 51 against the Nuggets, 46 against the Spurs, 40 each in games against the Blazers and the Jazz, 41 against the Supersonics and 52 against the Rockets. Believe me younger fans of the game, Chef Curry is nothing when you get to see a Kobe that went off for at least 40 in games where he wasn’t even trying. If he got red hot and going, god help those opposing defenders.
9.Performances in the 2003-04 season
2003-04 season was a nightmare for the Mamba off the court as he faced charges for sexual assault and spent most of his time in court rooms than on the wood. He faced incredible scrutiny as his face was plastered all over the national newspapers and televisions. But that episode just showed us that the Mamba was one of the most mentally resolute athletes to ever exist. Any other athlete in that situation would naturally and understandably take a prolonged break or put in subpar performances. But not Kobe. The 42 point performance against the Spurs in game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the defending champions was as huge a performance from an athlete facing charges and scrutiny could get. Add in the fact that Kobe just arrived from a hearing minutes before tip-off, you can’t help but wish you had that mental toughness. His professional performance helped the Lakers tie the series at 2-2.
10.Game tying shot in the game 2 of 2004 NBA Finals
One of the best clutch shots ever made. The Lakers dynasty with Kobe and Shaq was on its last legs with the duo having chemistry issues (an understatement). They were trying to go out with a bang, with a 4th title as they played a Chauncey Billups led Pistons side. It was game 2, the Lakers already having lost the 1st game. With 10 seconds to go, the Pistons led by 3 and looked all set to take a 2-0 lead in the series. But Kobe had other plans. He was handed the ball for his clutch duties as usual and he didn’t disappoint at all. He hit the game tying shot to send it into OT and the Lakers made use of this second chance to win the game and tie the series at 1-1. It looked like the Lakers would use this newly found belief to take their 4th title home, but it was not to be. The Pistons took the next 3 games as they swooped the series and the title.
11. Bryant 62-Mavericks 61
How can a man outscore an entire team in a game? Well that’s just the way the Mamba was. He outscored the entire Mavericks team in 3 quarters. He ended the game with 62 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals and thus recorded the 2nd highest scoring performance in the NBA after Chamberlain’s 100, a record he would rewrite in a few days time. He could have had even more, if he was not taken off by Jackson to give him some well deserved rest. Later, Kobe revealed that Del Harris, the head coach of the Lakers in his first seasons was the motivation behind this monstrous effort. Del was the assistant coach of the Mavs during that season. “Listen, when I was a rookie, I hated Del,” Bryant said. “He drove me crazy. I’ve always said, if we get a chance to get revenge, I’m going to get it.”
12.81 Point game vs the Raptors
If you thought that Kobe outscoring an entire team was crazy and inhumane, then his 81 point game against the Raptors left the opposing team begging him to stop. The 62 point game was just a prelude for this monstrous game. He ended the game with 81 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. He scored 81 of his teams 122 points. This was the league’s 2nd best scoring performance, behind Chamberlain’s 100 point game. For me personally, this performance was even better because Kobe was a guard and scored most of his points through jump shots as opposed to Wilt’s in the paint dominance. Not to forget, the athletes’ in the 2000s were much fitter than those in the 60s.
13.The 50 point streak
Kobe went off on a wild 4 game streak of 50+ points during the month of March, 2007 in one week. Just when you thought the 9 game streak of 40+ points was an amazing feat. Well, it’s Kobe and he just pushes himself to get better and better. He started the streak with 65 points against the Blazers and continued it with 50 against the T-Wolves, 60 against the Grizzlies and 50 against the then New Orleans Hornets. His streak ended against the Warriors, but he still managed to drop 43 points in that game.
14.2008 NBA MVP
There were still some questions hanging over Kobe ever since Shaq left the Lakers and they failed to win a title again. One of the reasons he was criticized was that elite players always win the regular season MVP award. Michael Jordan had 5 MVPs, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson won it thrice each. Hell even players like Allen Iverson and Steve Nash won it before Kobe. He was close several times but finally won it in his 11th season in the league. He undoubtedly deserved it as he led the Lakers to a 57-25 finish in regular season and was the face of the team as he averaged a huge 28 points per game. He took the Lakers to the finals but unfortunately fell to a KG-Pierce-Allen led Celtics team. He still had to wait for his first ring without Shaq to forever silence his critics.
15.2008 Olympics Gold Game
Kobe capped off an unforgettable year in 2008 as he captained the redeem team of the USA to Gold at the Beijing Olympics 2008. He led a young team filled with emerging and newly established superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade as the Team US redeemed themselves after the 2004 embarrassment. His performances in the 2 gold games against his teammate, Pau Gasol led Spain were literally worth their weight in gold. He would lead the Team US again in 2012 to yet another gold.
16. 61 Points at the Madison Square Garden
This simply has to be on the list because the game was played at the MSG. For those of you unaware, MSG is the basketball equivalent of the Lord’s in Cricket or the Maracana in football. Kobe marched into that arena nonchalantly and annihilated an awful Knicks team with his 61 point performance. This became the highest scoring individual performance then. Carmelo Anthony would later score 62 points to eclipse this record though. Even some of the Knicks fans were rooting for Kobe to get that record that night. Such is the impact of watching the Mamba play at his best.
17.2009 Finals MVP and Champion
This was everything Kobe dreamt of and hoped to achieve in his career: leading the Lakers to a championship without the help of any other superstar and thus get rid of that “Kobe can’t win anything on his own” tag that had been following him ever since the 3peat and eventual failures after Shaq’s departure. He led the Lakers to a championship, literally carrying them all on his own (Okay,a little help from Gasol and co.) He averaged 32.6 points, over 6 rebounds and 7 assists in the finals. He dropped 40 on the Magic in game 1 and this was just a trailer on how the series was going to go. Kobe was a determined man on a mission to get that 4th ring after suffering heart break and humiliation against the Celtics a year earlier. And the Magic had no chance to stop that version of Kobe.
18.2010 Finals MVP and final Championship
For me, this is the peak of Kobe’s 20 year career in the NBA. After being beaten by the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, Kobe as he said in his own words, changed a lot as a player and transformed into a leader. That transformation was vital as he led the Lakers to a title in 2009. He also acknowledged it as the most painful loss in his career. He got the chance to thank that Celtics side in 2010 Finals. The greatest rivalry basketball has ever seen was rekindled once again in 2010. The Celtics, led by equally resolute players in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett lived up to their reputation as they made Kobe earn this title, taking it to a game 7. Kobe never had to play in a game 7 in his previous championship winning finals series. As the saying goes, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”. There was nothing more satisfying to Kobe as he got his revenge against the Celtics and inflicted the same pain he felt 2 year before on the Celtics. He won the Finals MVP award again and this was his 5th and last ring of his career.
The 2013 Lakers roster included Dwight Howard, Steve Nash along with the ever reliable Pau Gasol. They were being coached by D’Anotni. Such a team should have simply ran away with at least the conference title right? Wrong. They were an awful mess and if not for Kobe, they wouldn’t have even made it to the post season. Nash and Gasol were out for most time with injuries while Howard was just present physically there. The Lakers were 25-29 at the time of the All-Star break, outside of the playoffs spots. Kobe even managed to drag even such an awful team to the 7th seed and then the playoffs. His desire and toughness are embodied in the game against the Warriors, where he has an injury to his achilles tendon but carries on nonetheless to make two free throws to win the game for the Lakers.
20.His last Bow
The Mamba went out in the most Mamba way possible. He dropped 60 points against a Jazz side who were chasing the playoffs at his home, the Staples Center for one last time. He once again led the Lakers to a win all by himself for one last time with this dominating performance. Shaq challenged him to get 50 points in his last game before the game but Kobe at that point said he probably cant. I guess he implied that he was going to drop more than 50. These were Shaq’s own words after the game, “I challenged him to get 50 and the mother****er got 60.” This game was a beautiful and befitting end to one of the Greatest ever to play the game.
Thank you, Kobe for all those memories you have given us during those 20 memorable years. Thank you, for making us see what a professional athlete should behave and play like. Thank you, for adding excitement to our other wise routine lives. Seeing you play was an honor, Mamba. May you find whatever it is you want to destroy next in your retirement!
P.S. I’m a huge Celtics fan and even though Kobe inflicted an unbearable amount of pain on us, it will be just foolishness to not acknowledge greatness when you see it.