After a 20-year career, Kobe Bean Bryant will play his last NBA game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. He will leave the game as one of the all-time greats regardless of the era, his position, or any type of rule changes. Kobe is that rare player who was around during the end of the Michael Jordan era, his own dominant era, the LeBron James era, and now the Stephen Curry era. Kobe has truly seen it all and been a polarizing figure in the NBA since coming in straight out of high school. Donning a suit and shades, he first showed the world his arrogant side in his Philly-area high school gymnasium while announcing his intentions to go pro and skip college.
We have all come to know and love (or hate) Kobe for his cockiness and arrogance, but have marveled at how good he really is and the length of time he was able to consistently produce. Many basketball fanatics (mostly Jordan fans) always assumed that Kobe just jacked MJ’s whole style, until they really sat down and watched the Lakers play. In the beginning, you had this teenage kid with the confidence of a veteran and the skills and athleticism of a young…MJ. NBA teams almost had to game plan for the Lakers by assuming Kobe was going to put up 30. Kobe was also a fierce cutthroat competitor and would stop at nothing to get the upper hand on opponents. He was especially notorious for his machine-like work ethic and middle of the night grueling workout sessions.
“The Black Mamba” was truly a gift to the game, and the NBA won’t be the same without Kobe Bean in the league. There are thousands of Kobe highlights (especially his 81 point game vs. Toronto) that have been talked about numerous times, but we’ve picked out five of our favorite Kobe highlights and memories:
1997 – Kobe flushes an impossible dunk over Ben Wallace in a preseason game
Usually the NBA preseason games are glorified scrimmages to get teams back into the swing of things and to maybe implement new wrinkles into the game plan. Even the most fanatic fans can’t tell you how their teams did in any given preseason. Well, nobody told Kobe that. He had an up and down rookie season coming off the bench and playing behind All-Star Eddie Jones, but Kobe made it known that he wanted to be the starter. While Jones was obviously the more well-known player around the league at the time, we all could see the writing on the wall. During this meaningless preseason game versus the Washington Wizards in Las Vegas, Kobe put Eddie Jones and the league on notice with this nasty crossover and dunk on Ben Wallace.
2000 – Western Conference Finals Game 7 vs. the Portland Trailblazers
Many people remember the Lakers’ three-peat (2000, 2001, and 2002) as a whole and tend to forget little facts such as the Lakers were swept in the 1999 NBA playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs and were on the verge of losing this series by being down 75-60 in the fourth quarter. Enter Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s determination led the Lakers back little by little against the unraveling veteran Trailblazers that were led by “in his prime” Rasheed Wallace and Hall of Famer, six-time champion Scottie Pippen. The biggest highlight from this game was Shaq finishing off a monster dunk off a lob for the Lakers to seal the game. If you watch the whole play, Kobe absolutely broke Scottie’s (an all-time great defender) ankles to get free to make that lob to Shaq. Extra points for Kobe’s baby fro.
2002 – Kobe plays in front of his ‘hometown’ in the 2002 NBA All-Star game
Not everything has gone according to plan for Kobe in his career. While he played his high school ball at Lower Merion High School, a school located in the suburbs of Philly, many locals did not feel he was a “Philly cat.” To make things worse, Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers had just demolished the Philadelphia 76ers in the previous year’s NBA Finals. Kobe felt that his local ties would negate all of that and spoke openly about wanting to win the 2002 NBA All Star MVP in front of his “hometown” so they could see how good of a player he had become. While he did win the All Star MVP, Philly fans ended up booing Kobe mercilessly and let him know that it wasn’t all good “back home.” Regardless, Kobe was his usual self and controlled the game from start to finish, but the damage had been done.
2008 – The Summer Olympics/The ‘Redeem Team’
In 2004, Team USA went to Greece with a mix of NBA players (standard since the 1992 Dream Team) and thought they could just show up and win the gold. The rest of the world proved that to be false. A Team USA led by Stephon Marbury, Lamar Odom, and Allen Iverson would only win a Bronze medal (the team also had rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony). Once the rosters were announced for the 2008 USA basketball team, everyone knew that only a gold medal would be acceptable for this squad, dubbed “The Redeem Team.” You had stars like the 2004 Team USA returning members LeBron and Melo, along with other superstars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. However, even though he wasn’t the main attraction on the team (that honor went to LeBron), Kobe’s role as the elder statesmen probably anchored them the most. Kobe usually guarded the other countries’ best backcourt player, but let the younger guys grab the spotlight. Most of the younger players marveled at how Kobe prepared before a game and LeBron has even credited Kobe for teaching him how to maximize his practice times and preparation.
2009 – Kobe puts up a Madison Square Garden record 61 points versus the New York Knicks
Kobe has made no secret that he loves playing at Madison Square Garden. He called it the “Mecca of Basketball.” The Knicks are one of the only squads that Kobe didn’t scoff at when people asked if he’d ever play for NYC. Some of the greatest players of all time have echoed the same thoughts about playing in the Garden. Kobe’s idol, Jordan, previously owned the opponent record against the Knicks, with 55 points in his “comeback season” with the Bulls. Kobe gave the Knicks players the business from the beginning. The Knicks knew that Kobe was going to put in work and try for something special early, and caught on after he had 31 points at halftime. The Lakers would go on to win the game.
SOURCE: YouTube | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, The Players’ Tribune