Only one Kobe Bean Bryant exists. That might be an obvious statement to some, but when viewed through the lens of competition and legacy Kobe’s name is rarely mentioned alone. The comparisons to Michael Jordan followed Bryant since his first game in the league; we analyze their move sets, we count championships against each other and we group the two together in ways that are unfair to both. Michael Jordan’s greatness is unquestionable so why do we question if Kobe’s better? Because we see so many of MJ’s traits within The Black Mamba. Both players had unparalleled internal fortitudes and could withstand pressure like few others. Both were prolific scorers and champions, but yet again… there’s only one Kobe Bryant.
Two years ago today the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated the career of Bryant by retiring both of his jersey numbers, 8 & 24. No other player has two numbers retired with a single club and Kobe’s exceptional play while wearing both jerseys left no other option. Kobe changed numbers halfway through his career to symbolize a shift from the ‘old’ Kobe (Shaq’s sidekick) into a new man both literally and figuratively. We’re sure opportunities to cover various parts of Kobe’s basketball journey will present themselves in the future, so to commemorate his jersey retirement anniversary we’re going to highlight five of his best regular season performances.
Where do you rank Kobe amongst Los Angeles’s all-time greats? Tell us on IG!
5) 62 Points vs. Mavs: 12/20/05
Okay Klay, your 60-points in 3 quarters was cute n’ all. Kobe’s 61-points through 3 quarters was an entirely different animal though. Thompson famously got his 60 piece with efficient, quick shooting; but Kobe did it with a masterful display of offensive wizardry. The most impressive aspect of Kobe’s feat is the fact he outscored the entire Mavericks team through 3… the. entire. team.
4) 61 Points vs. Knicks: 02/02/09
No other court in the NBA has the mystique of Madison Square Garden. “The Mecca of Basketball” has housed fabled basketball battles throughout its longstanding tenure as the home of the New York Knicks. Spectacular things tend to happen at MSG: MJ torched the Knicks in his return to the Garden after his first retirement, Steph Curry solidified himself as an elite player in 2013, and LeBron flirted with a 50-point triple-double in ’09. Kobe on the other hand pulled a Kobe and set the visitor scoring record at MSG in ’09 (Bryant had the overall record until Melo broke it by 1-point in 2014).
3) 60 Points vs. Jazz: 04/13/16
Going out with a bang is pretty much the dream of every athlete at the end of their careers. Kobe gave fans one last 60 piece nugget in his final NBA game (#Kobe4Big3!!) with a staggering 22/50 shooting split. It took dino-Kobe literally 50 shots to get 60-points but who cares? No other player has reached that output in their last game and we doubt anyone ever will. Only four players have scored 60-points more than once in their career (Baylor, Jordan, Chamberlin, Bryant) so Kobe had to get his sixth in the books before taking a final bow.
2) 55 Points vs. Wizards: 03/28/03
Passing the preverbal torch happens in every sport when one generational great officially steps down and allows for a successor to rise. By 2003 Michael Jordan was long past his prime and there was an awkward void left unfilled. Kobe had multiple championships at that point and had been rising as a legit mega-star. In his last meeting against MJ, Kobe made sure to send a statement to everyone watching that his time had arrived. While wearing Air Jordan shoes, Bryant destroyed the Wizards with 42-points in the first half against an aged Jordan; Kobe held nothing back. Full-attack mode was engaged as Kobe solidified himself as ‘the man.’
1) 81 Points vs. Raptors: 01/22/06
There are scorers then there’s Kobe Bryant. Today’s NBA stars credit Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality” because of his relentless and ruthless offensive outpours. Players like KD, LeBron, Step and Anthony Davis flirt with dominant scoring games but never venture into the uncomfortable territory Bryant frequented. Kobe’s mental region of basketball fused self-confidence, pride and savageness to create an unstoppable beast and the 81-point game serves as the greatest example of what Kobe was truly capable of. Thank you, Kobe, for showing athletes and non-athletes how to carry themselves with the Mamba Mentality.