The world came together on Sunday, January 26th, 2020, to mourn the loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna after a tragic helicopter crash took their lives along with 7 other individuals we wish to recognize. They include Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Kerry Altobelli, Christian Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan. We send our strength and condolences to the close family and friends of the 9 people whose lives were taken so suddenly.
As a sports page, many of us feel a close connection to Kobe Bryant and the void that he has left in the sports universe. As part of our contribution to honor his life and legacy, we have compiled 8 of our favorite memories of the Black Mamba from his remarkable 20 year career in the National Basketball Association, published on Mamba Day, 8/24, commemorating the two jersey numbers he wore that will hang forever in the rafters of the Staples Center.
The Passing of the Torch
Kobe Bryant played against Michael Jordan a total of 8 times. While MJ was on the decline, Kobe was rising to stardom. In fact, many people drew a lot of similarities between the two players. Throughout the 90’s, Michael Jordan was synonymous with basketball. With his upcoming retirement set to be his last, finally, Bryant made a statement in their last ever match-up. He scored 55 points in the Lakers win, showing the world that he had what it took to fill MJ’s shoes on the biggest stage in basketball.
The 81 Point Game
There are few things more iconic than Kobe Bryant going off for 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd, 2006. Only one player has scored more points in a single game, the record book himself Wilt Chamberlain. Toronto threw everyone they had at Bryant, but he was simply too hot to handle. He finished the game shooting 28-46 field goals, amazing efficiency for the high volume of shots he took while being the main focus of the opposing defense.
Only 4 teams in NBA history have been able to three-peat as champions. They are the Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54), the Boston Celtics (1959-66), the Chicago Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98), and the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02). While the utterly dominant Shaquille O’Neal definitely played a major role in the Lakers success, Kobe was just as instrumental in all three playoff runs. Those three championships helped solidify his standing as an all-time player in NBA history.
Kobe is remembered as being clutch. He made a number of memorable shots throughout his career, but perhaps none as iconic as his game winner against the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 playoffs. His last second layup sent the game into overtime, which he sealed with a contested mid-range jumper as time expired. Watching the clip gives basketball fans chills to this day.
The next of LA’s rings showed that Kobe was capable of being the undisputed alpha dog on a championship team. While three-peat Bryant donned the number 8 and was known for his athletic prowess and ‘wow’ factor, back-to-back Kobe featured the number 24. In this jersey he was known more as a savvy two-way veteran, capable of forcing his will on opponents on both ends of the floor through mind games and quick instincts. In 2009 he averaged 30.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists on his way to the title. In 2010 he averaged 29.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists to top off his 5th and final championship. He was Finals MVP both years.
The All-Star Game
The All-Star MVP award was renamed the Kobe Bryant MVP Award for good reason. He won a record 4 All-Star game MVP awards, tied with Bob Pettit all-time, in 18 appearances. He was known to bring the same intensity to those games that he did to every other game he played in the regular season and playoffs. In 2013, LeBron James was the peak of basketball and everybody knew it. Kobe wasn’t fazed, blocking him not once but twice in the closing minutes of the All-Star game to help the Western Conference secure the win. He’s always stepped up any challenge.
The Free Throws
This is perhaps one of the greatest individual moments displaying Kobe’s tenacity. In a game against the Golden State Warriors on April 12, 2013, Kobe tore an Achilles tendon at the end of the 4th quarter with the Lakers down a single point. Despite the pain and the injury, he managed to make his way to the free throw line and sink two clutch free throws that would help LA take the lead and eventually win the game. The drive and strength necessary to continue fighting even he could barely walk is beyond inspirational.
The Final Game
Kobe’s last official game was on April 16th, 2016 against the Utah Jazz. This would have been a pointless game for the Lakers as they were already eliminated from playoff contention, but Kobe wanted to go out with a bang. He scored 60 points, including 17 straight in the fourth quarter, to give the Lakers the final win of his career. He was unstoppable at the end of that game, and every shot he made was a reminder to us all of the incredible player and competitor he has always been.
Kobe’s legacy lives on. His impact is seen in the game of players he heavily influenced, from young up-and-comers such as Jayson Tatum and Trae Young to veteran champions like LeBron James. We will remember him at every Laker game, every All-Star game, and every time we make a shot into the waste basket. Long live the Black Mamba.
Featured photo credit: Jae C. Hong / AP Photo
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