For Laker fans, August 24th isn’t just another ordinary summer day, it’s 8-24. It’s Black Mamba Day, Kobe Day. The eighth month and the 24th day symbolize the two numbers Kobe Bryant wore in his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a career of unimaginable highs and team and individual honors. By now, you may be able to recite the records by heart: Kobe was an 18-time NBA All-Star, 15 times on the All-NBA team. He took the Lakers to seven NBA Finals, and won five NBA championships.
Kobe’s life was cut short in 2020 in a tragic helicopter crash, but his memory and legacy live on. Yelling “Kobe” has become a two-syllable cry for any baller of any skill level. It is an homage, an honor. Kobe Bryant symbolized determination on a basketball court. He played with passion, ruthless aggression, and fire.
He’s the only NBA player with two numbers retired by one franchise. We could tell Kobe stories all day. Here are eight of his greatest moments on a basketball court:
Hello, I’m Kobe
In 1997, Kobe Bryant was still bright-eyed and big-haired. NBA fans and players still didn’t think much of guys who came straight out of high school. Bryant showed up at the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest in Cleveland and kept on his warm-up shirt in the preliminaries.
Bryant advanced to the three-man finals and on his first dunk soared, put the ball between his legs, and threw it down. That was it. He received a 49 for his performance and his first big moment in the NBA sun. The league would never be the same.
Kobe 62, Mavericks 61
This was a good Mavericks team led by Dirk Nowitzki, but one night in December of 2005, they were whipped by Kobe single-handily.
In what was his best shooting performance of his career to that point, Kobe scored 62 points on 31 shots in 32 minutes. The Lakers led 95-61 after three quarters which meant that Kobe had outscored the entire Mavs team to that point. Unheard of.
Kobe rested the entire fourth quarter – despite the cries of the Staples Center for him – and won the game 112-90.
The Star of Stars
I know the NBA All-Star Game is a glorified scrimmage, with defense being a rumor, but still, it’s best on best.
And no one was ever better than Kobe.
Kobe won a record four NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Awards (tied with Bob Pettit). He had 31 points in 2002 in Philly (his hometown fans booed him) to win the award. In 2007, he went for 31 points again in Vegas.
The storyline in 2009 was that Kobe and Shaq were back on the same team – and coached by Phil Jackson. Kobe scored 27 and he and Shaq were named co-MVPs.
In 2011, the game was in L.A. and it was a Kobe Showcase. He had 37 points and 14 rebounds.
The NBA All-Star Game MVP Award is now the Kobe Bryant Award.
Is it possible to score 81 points in the flow of an NBA game? Kobe Bryant did it against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
It was a close game and it was one of those nights where Kobe just said he wasn’t going to lose. He had 26 points in the first half, but then went wild in the second. He had 27 points in the third quarter and 28 of his team’s 31 points in the fourth.
The 81 points is the second most by any player in an NBA game (Wilt 100). It was a Lakers record and the stat line is ridiculous. Kobe shot 28-46 from the floor. He made seven threes and was 18-20 from the free throw line.
The Redeem Team
After winning the bronze medal in 2004 (Bronze? Get out of here with that), USA basketball needed a lift, it needed to restore pride in the game.
It needed Kobe Bryant.
Bryant delivered a vintage performance for Team USA leading the Americans to a gold medal in 2008, after a strong challenge by Spain in the Gold Medal game. Bryant came back in 2012 in a reserve role to win a second gold medal and finished 26-0 in his national team career.
The Last Hiss
Kobe announced he would retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season. The Lakers were woeful, finishing 17-65 that year. Kobe had been plagued by shoulder and knee injuries.
Everyone knew that the last game at Staples Center was going to be a show.
In sports, we don’t always get to say goodbye to our heroes, but for one final night, Kobe Bryant was young and exciting. With his teammates working to get him shots, Kobe shot the ball 50 times, unapologetically. He hit the winning basket with 31.6 seconds left and finished with 60 points before exiting with 4.1 seconds left. It was the perfect culmination to the career of an NBA legend, who went out firing.
2010 NBA Title
We rank this one high because Kobe said so himself when he was asked about his career. This was his fifth and final NBA title. It came against the hated Celtics. The Lakers were down 3-2 in the series and came fighting back.
Boston had thumped Kobe and the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. This was the Era of their Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The 2010 series was a slugfest. Game 7 was not pretty, to be honest. The Celtics led 49-36 when Kobe started making some key shots. Derek Fisher came up big. Ron Artest, yes, that Ron Artest came up big for the Lakers.
It was a grind, just the way Kobe liked it. He scored 10 points in the fourth to help the Lakers win the game and the NBA title.
Two Free Throws, One Achilles Tendon
Over time, I think what we will remember less about Kobe is the titles and the points and more about his competitive fire.
That was never more evident when 34-year-old Kobe, finally starting to show some wear and tear, tore his Achilles tendon playing against Golden State in April of 2013. It was a simple move, but his body gave out, and injuries would mar his final three years as a Laker.
What happened immediately after remains legendary. Kobe was fouled on the play. And after receiving brief medical attention, he shuffled to the free throw line with one foot locked in place and made both free throws.
Looking back on the game now, Kobe’s courage stands out. Also, it’s telling that Golden State was led by a young guard that night named Stephen Curry who had 47 points.