The 2008-2009 season was arguably the best of Kobe Bryant’s career. It would be the first season he would win a Championship without the aid of Shaquille O’Neal. Ironically, he shared the MVP trophy with his old teammate during the 2009 All-Star game. Besides the Larry O’Brien trophy he would help the Lakers finish the season with the best record in the Western conference, finish runner-up in the MVP voting, and be selected to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team for the seventh time in his career. During that season he played all 82 games but played fewer minutes and shot near high field goal percentage in 2’s, 3’s and free throws.
Much like his idol, Michael Jordan, Kobe loves to play under the lights of Madison Square Garden. And very much like MJ, he has had some big games against the New York Knicks. On February 2, 2009, the Lakers were without their inside presence, Andrew Bynum. Kobe knew he had to step up his game a bit especially because he would be working with Spike Lee after the game on a project. So, it was set up to be a night in which the spotlight would be on him. He did not disappoint. For that game the “Del Sol” colorway of the Zoom Kobe IV was laced up as he made history at MSG.
From opening tip you could tell he had a little extra pep in his step. He was aggressive all over the floor, with a focus on dominating the game. Assists came when the opportunity was there and he got no rebounds. But no one could complain, as everyone could tell Kobe’s primary goal was to see the ball leave his hand and splash through the net. By the end of the night he made an efficient 19-of-31 shots with three three-pointers. Going a perfect 20 of 20 from the charity stripe also helped him reach the total of 61 points. His efforts were the most points ever by one player at Madison Square Garden (beaten recently by Carmelo Anthony), topping the previous record held by His Airness himself.
The event was so special that Nike created special “61 Points” Zoom Kobe IV’s that the Mamba wore during the start of that year’s NBA Finals.
“This place is special because of the fans. They’ll boo you the whole game but they appreciate the game,” Bryant said. “It felt great to get that reaction from these fans because they love what you do, and it’s a great performance and being able to celebrate that moment . . . it felt great.” With his retirement his performance that night is one that will go down as one of the best of his impressive career.