For a long time, Shaquille O’Neal was the main man in Los Angeles. The pair made an excellent duo but until he retired, Shaq was the face of the franchise. However, Bryant had a real coming-out party in 2002 when he was MVP in the All-Star game.
He had already appeared in back-to-back NBA Second Teams, but this was the chance to show that he was the best. It showed that he was ready for the next big step. This was taking up Shaq’s massive mantle when he finally moved on. Bryant announced he was the next Lakers’ poster boy with this All-Star Game performance.
Not every player gets to win an NBA Championship. You can be absolutely brilliant and still never get a ring on your finger. Just ask Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing. These two men proved you can achieve legendary status without winning the biggest prize in the sport.
Bryant battled through an ankle injury to help the Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in 2000. It was his first taste of team success. Even though he didn’t play well by his standards, only managing 15.6 points per game, it didn’t matter in the end. The Lakers got their first title since 1988.
As big moments go, this one was huge. We’ve already talked about how big it was for Bryant to embarrass Michael Jordan’s Wizards. Now imagine showing him up in the All-Star game. The two men faced off on opposite sides in 1998 with the stakes huge for Bryant.
Essentially it was the moment we saw what life would be in the NBA after Jordan. Both stars played very well, with Jordan scoring 23 points and taking the MVP award. However, Kobe didn’t let himself down. He put 18 points on the scoreboard. The Mamba was the future.
It can’t be overestimated how important O’Neal was to the Lakers fanbase. When he finally left them behind, they suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. When they lost in 2008 to the Celtics, things escalated. Suddenly, Kobe was under a lot of pressure.
But he was able to handle it. After the Lakers rounded out the roster in the postseason, they were much stronger the following year. He got the weight off his shoulder in June 2009 when he finally got a ring on his finger without Shaq. Suddenly he was the man.
Bryant’s longevity was extraordinary. No point guard before him managed to play for as long as he did. As well as that, he maintained very high levels throughout his career. There were very few slumps until he got older. But even when injuries took hold, he was still frighteningly accurate on the court.
All of this combined to make him break another record. At the age of 34, he became the youngest player in NBA history to score over 30,000 points. The man was quite simply unstoppable. However, LeBron James has since gone on to break that record at the age of 33.
Bryant came into the NBA in a highly unusual manner. Most players enter the draft after a year of college. Others build up the experience of a college basketball career and life before putting themselves forward. However, Kobe was never one to follow the pack. He chose to go pro straight after high school.
This led to a lot of media attention as he was only 17 at the time. He was only the sixth player in NBA history to go down this route. It’s not like he couldn’t have gone to college either. His basketball skills and SAT score of 1080 would have ensured admission to any school he chose.
Many players struggle to make one All-Star team. Bryant has a ridiculous 18. Only one man in history managed to than him. That was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 19. Nobody else in the modern era has got close to him. LeBron James is two behind with 16 right now.
Kobe won his first selection in 1998 and then every year from 2000-2016. He also has the second-highest number of consecutive All-Stars behind Jabbar, with 17. Very few players can maintain their fitness, form, and desire for that length of time. He truly was great.
Bryant was the youngest player to reach the 30,000 points, ane he’s got a number of other records. For a long time, he was the second-highest scorer in the NBA, butt LeBron James recently overtook him. However, it doesn’t look like anybody will get close to his Lakers’ record anytime soon.
Since 2010, Kobe has been the Lakers’ all-time top scorer. He overtook Jerry West’s record and finally finished with a career total of 33,643. Longevity was key to this. He also has the joint-most games for one franchise (shared with Dirk Nowitzki). In short, it will take something similar to even get close to it.
2010 saw the Lakers get revenge over the Celtics. They had lost to them in 2008 and it was time to get that one back. The 2009 season saw Kobe win the NBA Finals MVP award, and he had his eye on the prize again. After a poor game seven where he shot 6-24, Bryant came into the finals with a point to prove.
He had one weak shooting game in the brutal series but was overall the best player there. Kobe averaged 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. To sum up, he deservedly won his second MVP award and another championship ring.
There was nothing like a Kobe hot streak. When he was on his game, there was no stopping him. The other team had to concentrate on damage control or things would turn embarrassing. A prime example is from 2003 when he dominated the Seattle Supersonics.
Most people don’t consider Kobe a three-point shooter. However, he still averaged almost four attempts per game. When he played Seattle, he obliterated them with a then-record 12 threes in one game. To sum up, there really wasn’t anything he was bad at.
Possibly the single-most dramatic moment from Bryant’s career, this sublime piece of play meant everything to the Lakers in 2004. They were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves in a closely fought clash. With the Pacific Division in the balance, Kobe sealed the win in style.
He scored two of the greatest shots you’ll ever see. The first went over Ruben Patterson to force overtime. It literally saved the game for the Lakers. Then the second came with just one second left. It was a game-winning three-point basket for a 105-104 victory. Breathtaking.
The Lakers’ shooting guard produced some outstanding numbers over the course of his time in the NBA. He had a hot streak of 178 points in three games back in 2007. This is still a league record. But over the same period, he posted over 50 points in four consecutive games.
Bryant had scores of 65, 50, 60 and 50 in those matches, which is incredible. Even more ridiculous is how consistent he was over the course of the season. He scored 50 or more points in ten games that year. There truly was nobody else like him back then.
The United States national team missed out on gold in 2008 finishing an unprecedented third. By the standards of the US, having by far the greatest league in the world, this was a travesty. In 2008 ‘Team Redeem’ came along and put things right for the stars and stripes. Bryant had to bail his team out.
Kobe had to be at his best against an excellent Spain team. Despite the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony being on the same team, he stole the show. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and 20 overall, with a game-high six assists to help his nation to victory. It was the first of his two gold medals.
Winning the NBA finals without Shaquille O’Neal was massive for Kobe’s legacy. However, the way he won it must have been better than even he expected. They went to war with the Orlando Magic and Bryant put on a clinic across the series to bring the championship home.
He averaged 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. This was more than enough to win the MVP award, the first of Bryant’s career. This was so important for him because it proved he could do it without Shaq by his side. And he would go on and do it again.
Few scorers in history have ever been as prolific as Bryant. He was able to maintain periods of consistency that few other basketball stars can compare with. The NBA legend has the greatest February in history, averaging 40.6 points per game.
That kind of output is just outrageous. Nobody else has achieved that. He must have only played a couple of games right? No, he achieved at least 40 points in nine consecutive games. The only other man to do that was Michael Jordan back in 1986. A historical month for Bryant.
Madison Square Garden is one of the most iconic sports arenas in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s boxing, hockey. or basketball, just playing there once is the stuff of dreams for many athletes. Of course, Bryant took MSG by storm with a showing that’s still record-breaking.
In 2009, Kobe made history by scoring 61 points, breaking Bernard King’s record for most points scored in the building’s modern era. Carmelo Anthony has since broken that record. However, Kobe still has the accolade of the most points scored by an opponent in MSG.
One of Bryant’s most iconic plays went down in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. It was a beautiful moment of collaboration between two of the game’s greatest ever athletes. The Lakers were battling Portland with under a minute left on the clock.
The Lakers were up by four when Bryant dribbled into the lane and lobbed up a high arcing pass. O’Neal was there to meet it and dunked it in with one hand. In short, this iconic alley-oop sealed the game. This was also the start of the Lakers’ domination of the NBA.
The 81-point game is more famous, but arguably this was even more impressive. Bryant had a devastating game in 2005 against the Dallas Mavericks a month before the Raptors explosion. He scored 62 points on 31 shots in just 32 minutes of gameplay.
In fact, the Lakers were so good that day that Bryant didn’t even play the final quarter. It could have been a record-breaking performance if he had. Even crazier was the fact that Kobe had scored more points at that stage than the entire Mavericks team. They had just 61 points by the end of the third quarter.
This is the game that sealed Kobe’s championship pedigree. It’s wild to think that at one point people didn’t think he was a winner. However, he got his hands on three titles with O’Neal and then another in 2009. However, arguably his legacy-defining win was in 2010.
His game seven performance against the Celtics saw him carry his team over the line to victory. He averaged 28.6 points per game over the course of the series as the Lakers slogged their way to another NBA championship. It also saw him earn his second straight NBA Finals MVP award.
This Achilles injury was the beginning of the end for Bryant. At 34 years old, it was always going to be a battle to get back to anything near the full extent of his powers. He was playing against the Golden State Warriors when he fell to the ground and grabbed the back of his leg before hobbling to the side of the court.
Despite this, he stayed in the game and two free throws to tie the game at 109. It was a testament to his endurance and resolve because he was willing to battle through injury for the win. All of that even though he suffered one of the worst injuries that can happen to a basketball player.
Of course, Bryant is most famous for what he did on the court. But he stayed busy when he retired. How many NBA stars are also Oscar winners? It just goes to show what a genius Bryant was. In 2018 he won the Oscar for the best short animated film with ‘Dear Basketball,’ alongside his collaborator Glen Keane.
Based on a poem Bryant wrote for The Players’ Tribune, it conveys his love for the game and why he retired. Legendary composer John Williams created the score. It just goes to show what a thoughtful and artistic person Bryant was and it’s fantastic that his legacy lives on in different ways.
Bryant gained a reputation for his ice-cold demeanor. It’s very rare that he got emotional and lost control. Other NBA players thrive from living on the edge, but that’s not how Kobe was. The prime example of this was when he played against the Orlando Magic’s Matt Barnes and didn’t flinch.
The pair were sniping at each other all game with Barnes getting increasingly mad. Known for his volatile personality, Barnes was Kobe’s polar opposite. Officials intervened to calm them down. Barnes had one more trick up his sleeve. He picked the ball up and faked a pass into Kobe’s face. Bryant didn’t even blink.
Only one man has scored more points in a game than Bryant. That was the legendary Walt Chamberlain, who put 100 points on the board. But in the modern era, Bryant is definitely way out in front with this tremendous 81-point effort. It’s almost inconceivable how he did it.
It happened in 2006 against the Raptors. Bryant scored 26 points in the first half but the Lakers were still down by 14. Nobody could have expected the relentless outburst that was about to come. Kobe scored 27 points in the 3rd quarter and 28 in the 4th. In short, it’s one of the greatest performances of all-time and will be forever.
After suffering an Achilles injury, Bryant was never the same again. Especially as he was getting older. He recognized the deterioration of his body and made the decision to retire. But his last game saw him leave him with a bang. In the final match of 2016, he saved his one of his best for last.
Bryant scored a fantastic 60 points, his highest total of the season. It was a vintage performance that had the crowd on their feet because they knew greatness when they saw it. He stood in front of the sold-out Staples Center and thanked them from the bottom of his heart. ‘Mamba out,’ he said.