There is less than three hours left in future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant’s career. His final game will be tonight against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center at 7:30 p.m.. ESPN 2 and TWC SN will be broadcasting the game.
Kobe Bryant will retire as one of the best players to ever play the game, creating many memorable moments for all basketball fans. As the Black Mamba’s historic career comes to a close, here are my 24 favorite Black Mamba Moments:
24) June 26, 1996 — 1996 NBA Draft
After deciding to forgo his college eligibility and to go straight to the NBA after high school, Bryant became the first guard to ever be drafted out of high school when the Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 13th pick overall. However, Bryant would never suit up for the Hornets as they later traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac. The trade was a dream come true for Bryant as his favorite team growing up was the Lakers and he will retire as one tonight, having spent his entire 20 NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I grew up a die-hard Laker fan. It’s like a dream come true, for a kid to grow up, play for his favorite team and play here for 20 years, his entire career. I’ve seen the city grow. I’ve seen the city develop and vice versa. There’s no place I’d rather end my career,” Bryant said after his final road game on April 11 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
23) Dec. 17, 2015 — Kobe’s first dunk of his final season
A few weeks after announcing his retirement via the Player’s Tribune, Kobe Bryant dunked for the first time this season in the third quarter in a loss to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on Dec. 17. After receiving a pass from Jordan Clarkson, Bryant sped past former teammate and current Rockets player Trevor Ariza, then dribbled twice, and managed to slip past Rockets Center Clint Cappella to do a right hand dunk. As seen in the video, the crowd and both Lakers and Rockets players went crazy after the Mamba dunked. The crowd started chanting “MVP” for Kobe and got up on their feet. Dwight Howard, another former teammate of Bryant cracked up on the Rockets bench but Bryant’s current teammates went crazy: The Lakers’ bench were going nuts, Nick Young looked shocked and like he just saw a ghost, Julius Randle nearly hit the deck, and rookie D’Angelo Russell picked up his first ever technical foul for running onto the court from the bench to celebrate. Bryant’s dunk would make Sport Center’s Top Ten Plays that day as the #1 play. Bryant later dunk again against his final game against the Boston Celtics. Will Kobe Bryant dunk again in his final game tonight?
22) March 6, 2016 — Kobe’s final game against the Warriors
Entering into that game, the Lakers had a 12-51 record (a .190 winning percentage at the time) while the Golden State Warriors had a 55-5 record (a .917 winning percentage at the time). The Warriors were 3-0 against the Lakers for the 2015-2016 season. Despite Kobe only scoring 12 points and didn’t play in the fourth quarter, the expected happened as he guided the Lakers to blowout the Warriors, who at the time had the best record in the NBA and winning percentage, 112-95. During the game, a Kobe Bryant pep talk lead the young Lakers team to be on fire and they sealed the game after leading by double digits in the second quarter. The difference of .717 between both team’s winning percentages gave the Lakers’ win the biggest upset in NBA regular season history. This win was also the first time in NBA regular season history that team with a winning percentage below .200 beat a team with a winning percentage above .900. Alongside Bryant, six other Laker players scored in double figures and the team held the Splash Brothers (Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) to a combined 1-of- 18 from the 3 point range.
““He (Kobe) led us,” Julius Randle said in a interview. “Like I said, it was important that we locked in for a full 48 minutes, because (the Warriors) are so explosive as a team. Any time (Bryant) thought there was any little slippage or whatever, he was on us.”
21) Feb. 8, 1997 — Kobe’s First All-Star Weekend and becoming the youngest Slam Dunk champion
Despite not being selected his rookie year to play in 1997 All Star Game, Bryant participated in the 1997 All-Star Weekend in the Slam Dunk Contest and Rookie Challenge Game (Currently, this game has both rookies and second-year NBA players to participate in USA vs. World teams.). After finishing in third place in the first round of the Slam Dunk Contest, Bryant came back to win the event with a between the legs dunk in the final round that scored 49 points. The Black Mamba, who was 18 years old at the time, defeated Chris Carr and Michael Finley to become the youngest dunk champion ever. For his second event, the Rookie Challenge, Bryant competed on the Western Conference Rookie Team. Despite being the game’s highest scorer with 31 points, Kobe Bryant lost the Game’s MVP Award to Allen Iverson.
20) May 12, 1997 — 1997 NBA Western Conference Semifinals Game 5 Jazz airballs
Bryant was extremely confident in all of his basketball abilities when he entered the NBA as an 18 year old. The Lakers were able to make the playoffs in Kobe’s rookie year in 1997. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers faced the Utah Jazz and entering Game 5, the Jazz were leading the series 3-1. The Lakers would end up being eliminated from the playoffs that year after Kobe attempted to shoot the game tying basket with seven seconds remaining in overtime, but the rookie ended up shooting his fourth air ball that night. Game 5 was when Kobe learned a valuable lesson and was able to experience the first failures of his NBA Career. Many say the 4 air balls game was a defining moment in Kobe’s career. Former Lakers GM Jerry West stated that Kobe into the start of his second NBA season as completely different player since that incident as Bryant spent that off-season working in the gym to make sure he wouldn’t have another game like Game 5.
“It helped shape me. A lot of times as a young player, you don’t see how a situation like that can pay off in the end. But if you use it to drive you, use it to motivate you, then, you can stand where I’m standing now and look back at it with a lot of fond memories,” Bryant said in an recent interview.
19) March 28, 2003 — Kobe’s final game against Michael Jordan
Many NBA fans, coaches, and both former and current players have called Kobe the “Michael Jordan” of his generation. We all remember their All-Star game duels, especially their final one in 2003. Excluding All-Star Games, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have only played each 8 times , all of which were in the regular season with Bryant winning the series 5-3. However, Jordan started more games and averaged more points in their 8 games. this video here is the last time the two legends played each other after Jordan announced that he would retire for the third and final time once the 2002-2003 season was over. A young Bryant dominated and made the most of his final game with MJ as he scored 55 points in a 108-94 victory for the Lakers.
18) March 16-23, 2007 — Four straight 50-point games
Over this time period, Bryant was able to score 50 points or more in 4 consecutive games and the Lakers won all four of those games. The only other person to accomplish this feat was Wilt Chamberlin when he did it in 1961. Kobe scored 65, 50, 60, and 65 points against the Trailblazers, Timberwolves, Grizzles, and Hornets respectively. Although Bryant’s streaked got snapped on March 25 by only scoring 43 points against the Warriors, he would later end winning his 2nd consecutive scoring title that year.
17) Jan 7, 2003 — 12 three-pointers in One Game
In a 119-98 win vs the Seattle Supersonics, Bryant set the record for most three pointers made in a game by scoring 12 of them. He would finish the game with 45 points and made nine of his 12 three pointers consecutively. Since then, the record has been equalled by Donyell Marshall and Stephen Curry.
16) Dec. 7, 2012 — Youngest player to score 30,000 career points
The Black Mamba officially joined the exclusive 30,000 Career points club on this day by hitting a in runner in the third quarter in the Lakers’ 103-87 win over the Hornets. At 34 years and 104 days old, he also became the youngest player to ever reach that milestone. The only other players with 30,000 career points as of Kobe’s last game are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
15) Jan. 12, 2004-March 10, 2016 — Kobe Bryant vs. Lebron James
The Mamba and King James are close friends, Olympic Teammates, NBA Champions, NBA MVPs and are future Hall of Famers; and every All-Star game and match-up between the duo have been amazing. Both are two of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA but have played against each other only in the regular season (Not counting All-Star Games). In their 22 games, James has won 16 out of their 22 meetings. Although it would have been awesome to see them play against each other in a NBA Final, we still have amazing moments and highlight between the two in this video above.
14) April 4, 2004 — Clutch Kobe
Years after his Game 5 air balls, Kobe has displayed how he’s turned into a clutch player in this regular season game between the Lakers and Trailblazers. With the division title on the line, Bryant made the basket to send to send the game into overtime and later made the game winning basket in overtime to give the Lakers a 105-104 win and the division title over the Sacramento Kings.
13) 2015-2016 NBA Season — “Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour”
Bryant announcing his retirement on Nov. 29, 2015 on the Players’ Tribune marked the start of the “Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour.” Throughout the entire season, each opposing NBA team honored the Black Mamba with gifts and introductory videos during his final game at each city. Every single one Bryant’s games have been sold out and most of the opposing fans honored him by wearing his jersey and given him standing ovations at the end of each game. In addition, several players have given Bryant farewell gifts as well. Another highlight was Bryant giving out signed pairs of Kobes to several players like Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Tony Allen, Paul George, and many more. One of highlights of tour was his final game in his hometown of Philadelphia where he was honored with a introductory video and Julius Erving and Bryant’s high school coach, Gregg Downer, presented Bryant with a framed Lower Merion jersey.
“That moved me beyond anything I was expecting. There were ushers there that I knew since I was two years old. My high school teachers were there and high school friends. It was a very emotional time,” Bryant said.
12) Dec. 25, 2004 — 2004 NBA Christmas Game: Lakers vs. Miami
This game marked the first time Shaquille O’Neal played in Los Angeles since being traded to the Miami Heat. O’Neal at the time didn’t leave the Lakers on the best terms due the feuding between him and Bryant. Despite the Lakers losing in overtime, Bryant scored 42 points while O’Neal only had 24 and fouled out in the fourth quarter after fouling Bryant several times. This game was one of the most-watched NBA Christmas Day Games ever.
11) April 12, 2013 — The free throws
Bryant’s career would never be the same after he tore his Achilles tendon on this day against the Golden State Warriors. After tearing it, he showed us how to fight through the pain: Instead of proceeding to the bench after getting hurt, Bryant instead took two free throws that resulted from the foul that caused his injury. The Black Mamba made both and proceeded to the bench to watch Lakers hold onto a 118-116 victory.
10) 1998, 2000-2016 All-Star Games — Historic NBA All-Star Game career
The youngest player to ever start an All-Star Game and record holder for the most consecutive starts in All-Star Game History (18), the Mamba is one the best players to ever play in the All-Star Game. The only two times he failed to be selected were in 1997 (his rookie season) and in 1999 due to the NBA lockout (no All-Star Game that year). Bryant also shares the record for most All-Star Game MVPS with Bob Pettit as both have won the award four times. His final All-Star Game this year was very touching as he led all starters in the votes with 1.9 million (Stephen Curry came in a distant second place with 1.6 million votes) and all his All-Star teammates offered to give him the ball so he could get a record fifth MVP, but the Mamba declined. Also, he was honored with a video tribute and a speech by Magic Johnson before the game.
9) 2000 NBA Finals— First championship
Although O’Neal was the 2000 Finals MVP, it was Bryant’s performance and 28 points in Game 4 that gave the Lakers a narrow overtime victory to lead the series 3-1 over the Indiana Pacers. Later in Game 6, Bryant’s 26 points helped contribute to his first NBA title and the Laker’s first since the Showtime Era.
8) 2000-2002 NBA Finals — Three-peat NBA champions
With Phil Jackson’s triangle offense revolving around Bryant and O’Neal, the Lakers became the fifth team to ever win three straight NBA Championships. From his Game 4 performance in the 2000 NBA Finals to winning the 2001 NBA finals in his hometown in Philadelphia to averaging 26.8per game in the 2002 series, Bryant left many legacies in those championship years. Despite O’Neal winning the Finals MVP each of those three years, Bryant would go on to win the Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010.
7) Dec. 14, 2014 — Kobe passes Michael Jordan on all-time scoring list
By making a free throw during the second quarter of the Lakers’ 100-94 win over the Timberwolves, Bryant was able to surpass Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Tonight Bryant will retire in the same position on the scoring list only trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.
6) April 30, 2006 — 2006 game winner against the Phoenix Suns
This is Bryant’s most famous game-winning buzzer beater. In this playoff game, he hit a runner to force the game into overtime and scored the game winning-jumper in double overtime to give the Lakers the 3-1 series lead over the Suns. Unfortunately though, the Suns would comeback to win the series 4-3 in Game 7 that year.
5) 2008 and 2012 Olympics— Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist
After missing out both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, Bryant finally made his Olympic debut in in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As the captain of the Redeem Team, Bryant led Team USA to win the Gold Medal match against Spain. The Gold Medal Match was the day after Bryant’s 30th birthday and he scored 20 points in the 118-107 Team USA victory. Four years later in the 2012 London Games, Bryant and Lebron James lead the team to another Gold Medal with a 107-100 victory over Spain again. After the 2012 Games, Bryant retired from the national team on top with two Olympic Gold medals.
4) Dec. 20, 2005— Kobe scores 62 points in three quarters against Dallas Mavericks
This was Bryant’s career high before his famous 81 points in Toronto later that season. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 62-61, with Bryant scoring all of the Lakers points, including 30 in the third quarter. Bryant watched from the bench for the fourth quarter as the Lakers blew the Mavericks out 112-90.
3) 2007-2008 NBA Season— Kobe is the MVP
Averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the 2007-2008 NBA season, Bryant finally won his first (and only) regular season MVP Award. Bryant led the Lakers to a 57-29 record and to the NBA Finals where they lost to their rivals, Boston Celtics.
1) It’s a Tie: 2010 NBA Finals — Kobe’s 5th Championship and Jan. 22, 2016 — Kobe’s Career High 81 Points.
Kobe’s fifth and final NBA Championship was the best one for the Mamba as he finally got his revenge as the Lakers beat the Celtics 83-79 in a decisive Game 7 in the 2010 NBA Finals. Although only scoring 23 points, Bryant made a crucial pass to Metta World Peace for a three point basket. After Sasha Vujačić made two crucial free throws and the time later expiring, Bryant and the Lakers were able to celebrate. For his efforts, Bryant was named the 2010 NBA Finals MVP for the second year in a row.
Kobe posted his career high 81 points in this away game vs. the Toronto Raptors. His performance helped erase an 18-point deficit in the third quarter and his 81 points are the second highest ever scored in an NBA game. The record holder is Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 100 points in 1962.