The list of achievements, awards, and accolades goes on and on. The fact that it was tough to widdle his career moments down to 24 tells you all you need to know about the storied career of Kobe Bryant. The other number that he made iconic, 8, just wouldn’t do his career justice. With so much left to give the world and the game of basketball, his loss is shocking and tragic. Today we remember the moments that made him a legend.
Coming out of high school and straight to the NBA is a feat few players have been successful with. The shortlist of players that have pulled it off to great success include Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and of course, Kobe Bryant.
As a high school player at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, people knew he could play, but no one expected the basketball-altering legend to be the 13th pick of the 1st round in ’96. Seemingly only the Lakers and Jerry West knew. A draft-day trade sent him from Charlotte to Los Angeles, and the rest, as they say, is history.
First Career NBA Point
Although Kobe finished his career on an illustrious note, out of the gate he experienced a rocky start. He failed to score in his first career game but tallied a single point against the New York Knicks at the free-throw line to secure his first career NBA point.
Things picked up a little from there as he would go on to score more than 33,000 points after that shaky beginning. The free-throw line became one of his best friends throughout his NBA career as well.
1998 NBA All-Star Game
Kobe improved drastically from his rookie season to his sophomore season. He became the first 19-year-old to be selected as an All-Star in ’98 and scored 18 points in Madison Square Garden of all places.
He was not quite ready to take over the league as his idol and motivation, Michael Jordan dropped 23 and was selected All-Star MVP. This was definitely a sign of things to come for Kobe Bryant.
The First 40
Kobe would terrorize fewer teams more than he did the Sacramento Kings. 20 point games happen every night in the NBA, 30 point games are even becoming the norm. However, back in 2000 if you were dropping 40 it was something special. 40 became an easy milestone for Kobe to hit, but the first time was special.
He shot 63% from the field, snagged 10 rebounds and ended the night with an impressive stat line all around. He never erupted in any quarter, but his steady presence allowed the Lakers to edge the Kings 109-106.
The Alley-Oop Game
The scene was Game 7 in Los Angeles. The opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers. The winner would advance to the NBA Finals. The intensity was at an all-time high and was ratcheted up, even more, with the Lakers heading into the fourth quarter trailing by 13 points. Instead of succumbing to pressure, Kobe and Shaq produced one of their more iconic moments with a lob from Kobe and a slam from Shaq. Kobe’s stare intensified as Shaq looked shocked at what they had just accomplished. If only he knew what was in store for the duo.
Kobe scored 9 points in the fourth-quarter comeback and finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Shaq stole the headlines in the Finals, but Kobe propelled them there.
2000 NBA Finals
This was Kobe’s first taste of just how satisfying winning championships were. Known as a scorer and a one-man army at times throughout his career, nothing drove Kobe Bryant more than winning the NBA Finals. In 2000, he was overshadowed by Shaquille O’Neal, but Bryant averaged 16/4/4 during the Finals while averaging 90% from the free-throw line. He stepped up in a crucial Game 4 win after Shaq had fouled out of the contest. The series win over the Pacers was the start of something special in LA.
51 in Oakland
In the same year that he reached 40 for the first time, Kobe couldn’t stop there. A season later in December of 2000, the world became aware of the scoring prowess Kobe possessed. He could elevate in the lane in and finish, stop on a dime for a pull-up, back you down and fade away, and even step out and knock down the three.
There were no holes in his game on offense. With sheer determination, he seemingly willed the ball in the basket. LA would be on the losing end of this game, but Kobe finished with 51 on 35 shots, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. The Black Mamba was just getting started.
2001 Western Conference Semifinals
Shaq continued to dominate the headlines in the early 2000s, but Kobe made his presence known in the playoffs this time around. Kobe led the Lakers in scoring this series, averaging 35 points and 9 rebounds. He also closed out the series with one of his best playoff performances of all-time. With 48 points and 16 rebounds, he showed Sacramento the door in Game 4 of a convincing sweep of the Kings.
Oh, and by the way, played every minute of the game during the tense 119-113 win. Bryant would never win a Finals MVP during his run with Shaq, but there were numerous times where he proved his killer instinct was just as important as Shaq’s sheer dominance.
2001 NBA Finals
One title would never suffice for the legend of Kobe Bryant. The next opponent for him and the Lakers was his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. Led by Allen Iverson, the 76ers stunned the sports world and took Game 1 of the Finals.
Kobe made his presence known and would not be denied back-to-back titles. He led all scorers in Game 2 with 31 points. Game 3 was an epic duel between the kid from Philly and the city’s current star. AI finished with 35 and Kobe finished with 32 and a win for the Lakers. From there, the series was all but over. The Lakers won the next two and the series. Kobe averaged 46 minutes per game, 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. It was a complete performance from the budding superstar.
2002 All-Star Game
On a national scale, no team was as dominant as the Lakers in 2002. Kobe had the respect of the national media, but he wanted it from his peers as well. This 2002 All-Star Game was a display of offensive genius and the first of four occasions that Bryant won the NBA All-Star MVP. The icing on the cake? The All-Star Game went down in Philadelphia. A reminder to the city that they helped shape one of the best basketball players to ever step foot on the court. Philly responded by booing the star, but unfortunately for them that only fueled his fire. Bryant finished with 31 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
2002 NBA Finals
The third and final act of the Lakers trilogy in the early 2000s was their most dominant performance yet. The New Jersey Nets never stood a chance against Shaq and Kobe. Shaq was dominant again but Kobe made his presence felt in the most pivotal game of the series. Game 3 was back in New Jersey and the Nets had a chance to win on their home floor and regain control of the series to some extent.
Kobe wanted to go on vacation a little earlier than planned. He dropped 36 in Game 3 on the Nets and ended their hopes of competing for an NBA Championship. Bryant averaged a career-high in the Finals by finishing with 26.8 points per game during the four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference Champions.
Pass the Mike
In March of 2003, the legendary Michael Jordan was heading off into the sunset. His career was winding down, but not before one final trip to the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant wanted to send him off the only way he knew how. Competing ruthlessly and showing no mercy. Bryant wanted there to be no confusion whatsoever about who would lead the NBA into the next generation. Although MJ was not his former self, Kobe saw no reason to show the old GOAT any sign of sympathy.
Kobe knocked down 9 threes, 15 shots and 18 free-throws on his way to a 55-point virtuoso. It was his way of saying, “Thanks Mike, but I got it from here.”
81 For Fun
The pinnacle for Kobe’s individual accolades was his 81-point outing against Jalen Rose, Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors. Mired in mediocrity for a few years, the Lakers suffered after their three-peat with Shaq and Kobe. Doubt started to creep in across the league that Kobe couldn’t lead a team by himself to the Finals.
After a slow start and a 63-49 halftime deficit, Kobe erupted for a second-half surge that Lakers fans will remember forever. Kobe had a streak of 62 straight free-throws made end in this game, but that’s about the only thing that went wrong. Kobe went 28/46 from the floor, 7/13 from three, and 18/20 from the free-throw line. He did all this while leading the lackluster Lakers all the way back from a deficit that grew to 18 at one point. The record-setting points came at the free-throw line. Bryant’s 81 points, second-most in a single game in NBA history, is one of the first games all of his loyal fans will remember forever.
Most fans will remember his 81 against the Raptors, but prior to that Kobe’s previous career-high was 62 points. The mind-boggling aspect behind this game is that Kobe did it three quarters. The Mavs could not stop him, but the game was already out of hand that Phil Jackson insisted his star sit the rest of the game. In 32 minutes, Kobe outscored an NBA franchise through three quarters. Let that sink in.
He made 22 free-throws, 18 shots and had a plus-35 +/- rating when he was finally taken out. He scored 81 a month later, but fans were extremely curious as to what his career-high truly could have been if he continued to play. In Jackson’s defense, the score was 95-61, and Kobe was the franchise. In the Raptors game, they needed all 81 to secure that come-from-behind win.
61 in the Garden
As if he didn’t need another NBA record. At the time, Kobe Bryant’s 61 points in Madison Square Garden was a record. Five years later, Carmelo wrestled the record away with a 62-point outing so Kobe had to settle for most points scored by a visiting player in MSG.
Depending on who you ask, they’ll tell you this was all Spike Lee’s fault!
2008 NBA Finals
What’s a storybook career without a little bit of heartbreak? In 2008, Kobe reached the peak of the NBA once again. He was playing in the NBA Finals for a chance at another championship. The Lakers had yet to return since winning in 2002 and Bryant wanted that trophy in his grasp once again.
However, the Celtics were led by three future Hall-of-Famers and were able to deny Kobe Bryant the trophy. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett dispatched the Lakers in 6 games, embarrassing them in the final game of the series, 131-92. Kobe averaged 25.7 points per game in the series, and this would be a loss he was keen on avenging.
Instead of the purple and gold for this career highlight, Kobe was rocking the red, white and blue. During the ’04 Olympics, the proudest basketball country in the world was utterly embarrassed. They lost 3 times in the tournament en route to a Bronze medal. The world of basketball was shocked by the US performance and no one felt it more than the Americans themselves.
Armed to the teeth in 2008, the stars and stripes were ready to take down any opponent in their path. The team included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and of course Kobe Bryant. Bryant was the unquestioned leader of the team that went 8-0 this time around. In the Gold Medal game, Bryant finished with 20 points and six assists and made some of the biggest plays down the stretch. The Redeem Team restored order in the world of basketball and was a pivotal moment of Bryant’s career.
2009 All-Star Game
Who says Kobe didn’t like sharing? In 2009, the Western Conference All-Stars clobbered the East, 149-116. Kobe paced the West with 27 points and was named co-MVP with Shaquille O’Neal. Although the two had a falling out when Shaq left LA, they were on the path of repairing their friendship and this game played a big part in that.
2009 NBA Finals
This was the closest the NBA ever got to seeing a LeBron James/Kobe Bryant NBA Finals. If you asked Kobe Bryant I’m sure he would have preferred a rematch against the Boston Celtics. However, he would not scoff at an opportunity to become a champion for the fourth time.
Against Dwight Howard and the Magic, Bryant was as dominant as ever. He scored 30 points in four of the five games, and the fifth was a 29-pointer. He averaged 32.4 points per game to go along with 7 assists per contest. He finally had his NBA Finals MVP to go along with his fourth title.
No one may never know, but this could be the crowning achievement of Kobe Bryant’s career. It was his sixth appearance in the NBA Finals and he was going for his fifth title. He had the opponent he wanted as well. It was a rematch against the Boston Celtics and a new chapter of the NBA’s best rivalry. The two teams battled back and forth for a seven-game thriller that will be remembered for decades.
The Lakers found themselves down 3-2 in the series but were heading back to Los Angeles, two games away from a title. Bryant averaged 24.5 in those close out games and propelled the Lakers to a fifth title. An 83-79 defensive struggle capped off a series that was tiring to even watch. The emotion, jubilation, and heartbreak of all involved was sports at its finest. Kobe averaged 28.6 PPG and 8 RPG to achieve back-to-back NBA Finals MVP Awards.
2011 All-Star Game
In his 13th All-Star Game appearance, Bryant had a dazzling display in the exhibition. Taking place in Toronto, Bryant won his fourth MVP award and outdueled his counterpart from the Eastern Conference, LeBron James. Bryant finished with 37 & 14 rebounds while James had a triple-double. It was a night to remember for all involved and of course, Kobe had to lead his team to victory, 148-143.
“Mamba, Out,” were the last words spoken by Kobe Bryant in his post-game speech to a jovial Staplers Center crowd after they witnessed the legend make history one last time. Bryant had just come off a heroic performance in which he scored 60 points in his final NBA game. You guessed it, that’s another record for the Black Mamba. Down the stretch, Kobe couldn’t miss. He made his last five field-goal attempts and sealed the 60 points at the free-throw line.
The 101-96 comeback win displayed a little bit of everything from Bryant. His will to win, his desire to score at will when his team needed it most and the love he had for the Lakers faithful that had cheered him on for 20 years. Kobe’s entire family was sitting courtside taking in the game but he had the most famous people in the world in awe of what he could do with a basketball. Jay-Z, Kanye West, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg and of course Jack Nicholson were on their feet the entire fourth quarter.
Originally a poem penned on The Players Tribune, an online outlet for professional athletes, Bryant tugged on heartstrings across America when writing about the sport he loved. He proclaimed he gave basketball everything he had. The sport he loved had an influence over him and drove to greatness on a daily basis.
That powerful poem led to animated short film with music from the award-winning John Williams. That animated short film led to an Oscar for Kobe Bryant. As if dominating the hardwood wasn’t enough, he was about to dominate Hollywood as well. Bryant had many other creative projects in the works and attacked them with the same ferocity he would an NBA defender. The second part of his life was about to blossom but was cut short by the unthinkable tragedy.
Birth of GiGi
The last accomplishment on the list is the one that Kobe takes the most pride in. Known as a great father to all four of his daughters, he had a special place in his heart for Gianna Bryant. Known as GiGi, she was born on May 1, 2006, and was the Mambacita to his Black Mamba. Only in eighth grade, she was already a fearless player. She mimicked her father in every way and had her sights set on WNBA stardom.
The women’s professional sports community embraced her and Kobe. They saw the value of what her talent and his interest could do for them for years to come. She was a shooting star in the basketball world, but one that will never be forgotten. The tragedy of Kobe Bryant is made only more heartwrenching by the fact that GiGi was on board the helicopter as well. He was being a dad and heading to a game with his beloved daughter. Their bond was inseparable and the mentor and his apprentice had so much left to give the game of basketball. The only thing that will fade away now is Kobe’s timeless jumper. His legacy and impact will live on forever.
Our hearts go out to the other victims that were lost in the crash and all the families who lost loved ones.