On Thursday, Los Angeles Lakers talisman Kobe Bryant will pen the final chapter in his illustrious 20-year career and leave behind a legacy that will arguably never be matched.
The future Hall of Famer has achieved it all in his storied career and his impact on the sport will forever echo through the ages.
In honour of Bryant’s swansong, we have selected eight performances that made the ‘Black Mamba’ one of the greatest and deadliest players to ever step foot on the court.
8. 52 points vs Houston Rocket – February 18, 2003
Bryant entered this game in the midst of a nine-game 40-plus points scoring streak and to score 52 points with a sore right knee shows valour and guts, something Bryant had a lot of. Furthermore, the Lakers did not have the services of Shaquille O’Neal at the time, but that didn’t stop Kobe from putting on a show, the highlight of which came when he posterized Yao Ming.
7. Game 7 of 2000 Western Conference Finals – June 4, 2000
Bryant played an instrumental role in leading the Lakers to NBA glory in 2000 as he maintained his cool despite his side being down by 15 against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 37-year-old stole the spotlight as he helped the Lakers mount an incredible comeback in the final 10 minutes.
Bryant finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks as the Lakers won the game 89-84. However, more importantly, this marked the start of the Lakers’ incredible three-peat.
6. 65 points vs Portland Trail Blazers – March 16, 2007
Scoring 65 points against any team in the NBA is no easy feat. However, Bryant made it look easy in the Lakers’ 116-111 victory in overtime. This 65-point performance, during which Bryant made eight of the 12 three-pointers he attempted, marked the start of four-game 50-point streak for the ‘Black Mamba’ and came when the Lakers were on a seven-game losing streak, the longest of head coach Phil Jackson’s career.
5. 55 points vs Washington Wizards – March 28, 2003
This game was memorable for so many reasons as Bryant scored 42 points in the first half, breaking Elgin Baylor’s record of 37. It will also go down in history as the last time Bryant would face Michael Jordan, who is arguably the best player to ever play the game.
Bryant outclassed Jordan in this game though, as he finished with 55 points, during which he converted nine three-pointers.
4. 12 three-pointers vs Seattle Supersonics – January 7, 2003
>Making three-pointers in the NBA is an arduous task to say the least, but the word difficult doesn’t seem to apply to Bryant as he broke an NBA record for the most three-pointers made in a single game by knocking down 12 in a 119-98 win over the Sonics. What was even more impressive was the fact that the Pennsylvania native made a record nine straight three-pointers without missing.
Even though Donyell Marshall and Stephen Curry matched Bryant’s feat in 2005 and 2016 respectively, Bryant will always be known as the first man to reach the milestone.
3. 56 points vs Memphis Grizzlies – January 14, 2002
Many people won’t remember this game as it gets lost in the plethora of jaw-dropping performances Bryant has had throughout his career. However, you can’t help but marvel at the fact that Bryant scored 56 points in only 34 minutes of action, which is almost unheard of today.
Bryant played just under three quarters during the game and there is no telling how much more damage the 37-year-old could had inflicted had he been left on the court for a longer period of time.
2. 62 points vs Dallas Mavericks – December 20, 2005
Bryant seems to have a unique gift of being able to score a ton of points in a very short period of time. The ‘Black Mamba’ was only on the court for 33 minutes in the Lakers’ 112-90 win over the Mavericks, but he made full use of the time he was in action as he made some amazing shots, while also going 22 of 25 from the charity stripe.
However, the question on everyone’s mind is just how many points would Bryant have scored if he had played in the fourth quarter? Sadly that question will never be answered.
1. 81 points vs Toronto Raptors – January 22, 2006
This will always be remembered as Bryant’s career-defining performance as he stunned the basketball community when he dropped a career-best 81 points against the Raptors.
Bryant converted shot after shot and left the Raptors scratching their heads and in complete awe. The ‘Black Mamba’ etched his name in the history books during this game as he had the second-greatest individual performance in an NBA game behind the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, who scored a mind-blowing 100 points against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962.