Kobe Bryant finally called it a career in 2016, after a remarkable career that can be considered among the best ever. As the Los Angeles Lakers slid into irrelevance and mediocrity in his final seasons, the Black Mamba found it necessary to finally retire at 37. And what a long and glorious career full of great moments it’s been.
A look back sees that the Lakers’ long-time captain has won five NBA championships, an MVP award in 2008, 17 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA first team nods, and nine NBA all-defensive first team awards. He has been scoring champion twice (back-to-back) in 2006 and 2007 and currently sits third, all-time in points with 33,643.
Then, to cap it all off, he turned back the clock in his final regular reason game and dropped a ridiculous 60 points against the Utah Jazz in his farewell game, including a staggering 38 in the second quarter. After spending much his final two years in the NBA riddled with injuries, it was a magical night for basketball fans everywhere who wanted to celebrate Kobe’s career one last time.
To celebrate his numerous achievements, we’re taking a look at 10 awesome moments in Kobe’s exceptional 20-year career.
10. Youngest Starter Ever
Bryant was drafted 13th overall, right out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996. After some draft day chicanery, he ended up a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded their starting center, Vlade Divac, for his right. Pretty soon, Kobe became the youngest player ever to play in a game (18 years, 72 days and since surpassed), subbing in for the likes of guards Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. More notably, on Jan. 28, 1997, Bryant became the youngest player ever to start a game (18 years, 158 days), dropping 12 points against Dallas in a 102-83 win. It’s a record that still stands today.
9. Scores 12 Three-pointers In One Game
In January, 2003, Bryant was still just 24 when he set a record that may not be broken for a very long time. Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers were taking on the old Seattle SuperSonics when he got on a serious roll. First, he sunk an incredible nine three-pointers in a row. He topped it off by draining three more to give him a record 12, shooting 12-for-18 from beyond the arc and scoring a game-high 45 points as the Lakers triumphed 199-98. Coach Phil Jackson, who coached the incomparable Michael Jordan, had this to say of Kobe’s feat, “”That was perhaps the greatest streak shooting I have ever seen in my life.”
8. Scores 62 Points In Three Quarters
Bryant has made it a career of burning several teams, having huge nights at their expense. He never scored 100 in a game like Wilt Chamberlain, but he owns quite a few feats of scoring prowess himself. On December 20, 2005, Bryant gave the Dallas Mavericks with a lesson in how not to defend him. In one of the more magnificent performances of his career, Bryant poured in 62 points on 18-of-31 shooting (30 alone in the third quarter), including four three-pointers and 22 points (out of 25 attempts) from the charity stripe. That would have been a game for the ages for any player, except that Kobe sat out the whole fourth quarter in the Lakers’ 112-90 victory. Truly amazing.
7. Drops 81 On The Raptors
During Kobe’s final stop in Toronto last night, the Raptors feted him with a tribute video. Except, one very important piece of the Black Mamba career pie was missing. And that was his monster 81-point demolition of the Raps on January, 22, 2006, about a month after destroying Dallas with 62. What current Raptors’ management considered too embarrassing to honor him with was the second most prolific scoring performance in the history of the NBA. Bryant took 46 of the Lakers’ 88 attempts from the field that night at the Staples Center, hitting 28 of them, including seven three-pointers and 18 free throws (out of 20). The next highest scorer on the floor for the Lakers’ during the 122-104 win was his old buddy, Smush Parker, with 13.
6. Outduels Jordan in MJ’s Final Game
The one player that Kobe was often most compared to, Michael Jordan, was his plaything for the final meeting between the two in March, 2003. His Airness was on his retirement tour in 2003 when he and his Washington Wizards paid a visit to the Staples Center for one last go. Of all his scoring records, this one was truly special for Bryant, as it came against one of the greatest of all time. First, he scored 42 in just the first half, which broke former Laker great Elgin Baylor’s record 37 he posted in 1960. Second, he made nine shots in a row at one point and scored 23 consecutive Lakers points in a 5:42 stretch late in the second quarter. Jordan, who was 40 at the time, scored a team high 23 as his team lost 108-94.
5. Alley Oop To Shaq Starts Dynasty
In 1999-2000, the Shaq-Bryant duo were just hitting their stride. The Lakers made the playoffs for the fourth time in Kobe’s four seasons, but had never advanced past the West Conference semi-finals in his first three years and the Lakers hadn’t won a championship since 1988. Well, Los Angeles did make it past the semi-finals that season, beating the Phoenix Suns 4-1, and were facing the Portland Trail Blazers in the West finals. The series would go a hotly contested seven games and in the winner-take-all seventh contest, the Lakers found themselves down 15 late in the game. As if decreed by the basketball Gods, Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers stormed back with 15 straight. Kobe slammed the door shut on Portland’s hopes with a clutch alley-oop to Shaq. The Lakers would go on to win the first of three straight championships.
4. Olympic Gold In 2008
After a few disappointing years in the basketball wilderness, Kobe would have one of his finest individual seasons in 2007-08. Even though the Lakers lost in the NBA finals to the hated Celtics, Bryant copped his first and only NBA MVP award. He averaged 28.3 points, 5.4 assists and 6.3 rebounds in yet another stellar season. For that, he was named to the 2008 Men’s Olympic basketball team for the first time. Nicknamed the “Redeem Team” (a play on the super 1992 squad), the Beijing 2008 version had to erase the bitter taste of a bronze from the 2004 Athens games. Bryant was named captain of the squad under Mike Krzyzewski. The U.S. team, which included Kobe’s nemesis LeBron James, rolled over the competition in the round robin and whipped Spain and teammate Pau Gasol in the final 118-107 for the gold.
3. Back To Back Finals MVP Awards
No one knew it at the time, but in 2010 it was Kobe’s last hurrah as a champion (that is barring a massive and unseen turnaround in this his final campaign). And he went out with a bang. Bryant capped yet another brilliant campaign, leading the Lakers to a thrilling victory in a seven-game final against rival Boston, which featured Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Bryant would lead all scorers six times in the seven games, including a series high 38 in Game 5, on the way to being named series MVP. The 2010 triumph followed the five-game win in 2009 over upstart Orlando, where Kobe notched his first of two finals MVP awards. He scorched the Magic for 30 points or more in four of the five games.
2. Four Straight 50-Point Games
Late in what would be a lost 2006-07 season, Bryant would put yet another stamp in the NBA record books, when he went unconscious on a run that only Wilt Chamberlain had gone on before him. On March 16, 2007, Bryant lit up the Portland Trail Blazers for 65 points (second highest in his career), helping end a horrible seven-game losing streak. The following contest, he hit for 50 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and then poured in another 60 against Memphis, becoming just the second Laker to record three straight 50-plus point games (which was done previously by Michael Jordan in 1987). He put the capper on the streak, logging 50 against New Orleans to become just the second player ever to have four straight behind Wilt the Stilt, who had streaks of five and seven.
1. Passes Air Jordan On The Career Points List
The 2014-15 season might have been the most miserable of Kobe Bryant’s career. The team went 21-61 and looked mostly dead, night in and night out. But, even in a season punctuated with nothing but disappointment and failure, Kobe gave the team and the fans something special. In a 100-94 win over equally woeful Minnesota in mid-December of 2014, Kobe scored 26 points, the ninth of which — on a free throw, no less — gave him 32,293. It was the point that allowed him to pass Michael Jordan for third on the all-time points list, just behind Karl Malone and Lakers’ legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.