As Kobe Bryant capped his storied NBA career on Thursday (April 14 in Manila) with a 60-point outburst in Los Angeles’ 101-96 come-from-behind win over the Utah Jazz, I want to share some of my own recollection of the Black Mamba’s highs and lows with the Lakers.
Personally, next to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant is the next great competitor in the NBA all-time.
- Remember the Black Mamba’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006? Bryant just completely annihilated the Raptors with an assortment of shots – dunks, free throws, pull-up jumpers, layup over multiple defenders and threes.
- How about Bryant outscoring the entire Dallas team after dropping 62 (as opposed to the Mavs’ 61) after 3 quarters at the Staples Center on Dec. 21, 2005. The Lakers went rolling past the Mavericks, 112-90.
- Another memorable game for me was Bryant’s game-winning shot against the favored Phoenix Suns in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs in 2006. Kobe’s 17-footer at the buzzer sealed LA’s 99-98 overtime win to give the underwhelming favorites Lakers a 3-1 series lead. (But we know the Suns won the last 3 games to beat the Lakers and advance to the semis.)
- Or Bryant’s crossover against Scottie Pippen in the 2000 West Finals Game 7, leading to a penetration and alley-oop play to Shaquille O’Neal, with the 7-2 giant coming down with the dunk. The Lakers advanced to the Finals for the first time since 1991, and they went to beat the Sixers, 4-2 for the franchise’s first of three NBA titles under Phil Jackson.
- Among the many highlights, I would say, the turning point for Kobe’s rise to greatness happened during his rookie year. His 4 air balls in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Playoffs eliminated the Lakers. But I believe that early setback in his young NBA career didn’t dampen his spirit as he worked on his game, enabling him to reach the pinnacle of the NBA and becoming a 5-time champion and 2-time Olympic gold medalist as well with the USA team. (I touched on this subject lengthily in my new book Sports Icons.)