Kobe Bryant's best games for each of his jersey numbers
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a picture with his 5 NBA Championship trophies at STAPLES Center on March 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant will go down in history as one of the best to ever play the game. That's something you've read and heard before, and it's something you will continue to read and hear long after both his jersey numbers will have been retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.
That's because it's the truth. Outside of Michael Jordan, there really is no question about Kobe's place as the best shooting guard this game has ever seen, and, sure, there are some guys playing right now who may one day soar into that rarefied air (hello, James Harden), but with 5 rings, 2 Olympic gold medals, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, 1 season MVP, and 11 All-NBA First Team selections among other achievements, Kobe's legacy and place in the Hall of Fame have all been guaranteed.
Now that he will be honored with the retirement of his two iconic jersey numbers, however, it seems only apt to take a look back at what has been an amazing journey for a player who wasn't even on many people's radar up until he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets at #13 in 1996.
In honor of the Black Mamba, here is my list of Kobe's best games for both #8 and #24. Take note that in a number of these games, he wasn't actually shooting well, but he came up huge in the clutch, which, let's face it, counts the most anyway.
Kobe's best games wearing #8:
Game 7 vs Portland in 2000
Yes, the Lakers were certainly Shaq's team in the late 90s and early 2000s, but nobody could argue the impact Kobe already had as a young buck on the Association's glamor team. This was especially true 17-years ago, when the Lakers played a team specifically designed to be the Shaq antithesis - the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was Game 7 of the 2000 Playoffs, Phil Jackson's first season in sunny California, and the Shaq-Kobe duo had yet to win an NBA championship. In the fourth quarter, the Blazers were up by 13 and looked firmly in control, with the prospect of another bitter summer beckoning for Shaq and Kobe. Kobe helped spark an incredible fourth quarter rally that saw LA score 15 straight points and eventually take the lead late in the game, with the unlikely comeback punctuated by what is now an immortal alley-oop play from Kobe to Shaq. Kobe's final line was excellent -- 25 points, 11 boards, seven dimes, and four blocks. Had the Lakers lost again, the potency of the Shaq and Kobe tandem would have forever been questioned, but as it stands, they won, 89-84, and eventually copped what would be the first title of their early millennium three-peat.
55 points vs Washington/MJ in 2003
In my mind, MJ remains unchallenged as the best shooting guard - nay, the best player - to ever dribble a basketball, but at least for one night, Kobe showed up His Airness. And, fine, yes, Jordan was practically an old man playing a young man's game 14-years ago, but that should not diminish the significance of his showdown with heir apparent Kobe.
MJ himself wasn't too shabby, especially for someone who had already turned 40, and whose career was just two weeks shy of his eventual retirement. Jordan shot an impressive 10-of-20 from the field to score, fittingly enough, 23 points, but Kobe was his good old killer self. Bryant relished playing Jordan one final time, showing his reverence for his idol by making 15 of his 29 field goals en route to an eye-popping 55 points. The Lakers would win, 108-94, and the baton would be passed from Obi-Wan to Luke, proverbially speaking.
81 points vs Toronto in 2006
Months before donning #24, Kobe unloaded the highest scoring game of any NBA player since Wilt's 100. It was an historic achievement, of course, but perhaps more impressive was how it happened when Bryant had very little help on a middling Lakers team (that's what happens when Smush Parker is your starting PG).
When this game tipped off, the 21-19 Lakers were still considered a postseason dark horse, but far from being a titular contender. They weren't in the limelight often, due to their rebuilding status, but boy would that change after Kobe's jaw-dropping performance. His line: 81 points, 28-of-46 field goal shooting (60.9 percent), 18-of-20 free throw shooting, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, and one block in 42 minutes. He not only scored, he filled up the stats sheet and pretty much gave Jalen Rose a reason to blush every time they pass each other in the halls. And, yeah, it didn't happen in a playoff game, against a bitter rival, or opposite a famed foe, but, hey, it's not everyday you see someone drop 81 points at the highest level of basketball, right?
Kobe's best games wearing #24:
61 points vs the Knicks in 2009
When your opponent's fans begin chanting "MVP" in their own arena - and when that arena is no less than Madison Square Garden - you know you've done something pretty special. On this night in '09, Kobe walked into MSG and lit up the Mecca of Basketball with 61 points -- the most anyone has ever scored in that venue. The Mamba shot 19-of-31 from the field on his way to that historic evening, and though he didn't do much else aside from score (three assists and one block), it was still a performance worth remembering for any fan in attendance. Kobe, frankly speaking, was unstoppable, with the Knicks throwing everything and everyone -- Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson, Wilson Chandler, a young Danilo Gallinari -- at KB24 and seeing it all end in futility. It was also exactly the kind of thing Lakers fans needed at that point, since then-rising star Andrew Bynum had just torn his MCL, effectively sidelining him for a significant chunk of time.
His "bad" game vs Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals
It was an epic rematch of the 2008 Finals, which LA lost. It was Game 7 against the Celtics, whom the Lakers had never beaten in any Game 7 before. And it was the kind of atmosphere in which Bryant thrived. Entering the payoff period, Kobe struggled mightily from the field and had just a pedestrian 13 points, before sparking an endgame windup that would not only frustrate the Cs but, more importantly, give the Lakers their 16th title (they haven't won any since). In what was one of the ugliest Game 7s in history, Bryant still found a way to shine, overcoming an anemic 6-of-24 shooting night to notch 23 points on top of 15 rebounds and 2 assists. It was the best "bad" game Bryant had ever played, and he wouldn't trade it for anything else, especially after his fifth NBA title gave him "one more than Shaq."
60 points in his farewell game vs Utah in 2016
The Lakers' Farewell Kobe tour of 2015-2016 was very painful to watch for both fans and non-fans, but one cannot help but applaud at the Mamba's final curtain call. It was classic Kobe rolled into one helluva game. On the opposite end was the Utah Jazz -- a franchise that had frustrated Kobe and the Lakers on many occasions. In addition, KB24 had not scored more than 50 points since 2009, and the Lakers were pretty much languishing in their franchise's worst season ever. It was equal parts horrible and incredible, but in the end, it was a fitting way for Kobe to bow out of the game.
The Black Mamba led his team to an improbable win in a style all his own, while scoring 60 guddayum points. Kobe hit two triples inside the final minute of the game to not only gift himself with another memorable scoring performance, but perhaps more importantly, leave a legacy of winning for a team that badly needed it. And while for some purists this may have seemed manufactured, what with his teammates obviously setting him up nearly every time they went downcourt, it was still a classic in the eyes of Kobe and the NBA's followers. When the final buzzer sounded on the Lakers' season and on Kobe's career, he looked up and read his final box score -- 60 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block, six triples, and 20 seasons of absolute greatness.
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