We sometimes forget how spoiled we’ve been as Lakers fans. The current generation of fans has seen as much of Kobe Bryant’s life in the national spotlight as there was before the Lakers. With Bryant turning 35 in just 2 days, we here at Lake Show Life decided to count down Bryant’s 35 greatest moments in the NBA. The first thought was to rank them, but when trying to determine which of Bryant’s accomplishments are better than another, we realized it was too hard. Instead, we’ve listed them in chronological order, starting with Bryant’s first year in the league and working the way to last season.
In the first installment, we saw Bryant mature in front of our eyes, ending with the Lakers 3-peat. The second installment saw Bryant burst out from Shaq’s shadow and become a superstar in the following two seasons. Now, we’ll see Bryant leading the Lakers by himself, and putting up some insane numbers along the way.
Following the 2003-04 season, the Lakers cleaned house, building the team around Bryant and allowing him to lead. Bryant gladly accepted the role, but the hard times were more than anyone expected. 2004-05 was a bad year for Bryant, who battled with media and former players alike, damaging his reputation and, as a result, missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Bryant came into the 2005-06 season re-focused, thanks to the return of Phil Jackson as head coach. With a trusted leader, Bryant came into the season with a focus unlike anything we’ve seen. Bryant was scoring in bunches and the Lakers needed them all, which brings us to the December 20 match-up. The Mavs were still one of the top tier teams in the league, while the Lakers were barely over .500. Bryant came out firing from the get-go, pouring in 32 points in the first half as the Lakers led by 9. The third quarter was all Bryant’s, though. The Black Mamba poured in 30 points on the Mavericks, finishing with 62 points in three quarters. Most remarkably, the Mavericks as a team only amounted 61 points, 1 fewer than Bryant himself.
Not only was Bryant’s 62-point performance not the greatest of his career, it wasn’t even his highest output of the season. Bryant came into the Raptors game on an absolute tear, averaging 41.9 points over his last 10 games. So when Bryant scored 26 points in the first half, it was impressive, but not unexpected, and even then the Lakers trailed by double digits. Bryant’s second-half performance, though, was not expected. Any and all conversations about being “in the zone” should begin and end with this game. Thanks to a 55-point SECOND HALF, Bryant tallied 81 total points, the second most in NBA history. No one was stopping Bryant on this night as he hit 28 field goals and 18 free throws, shot 60.9% from the field, 90% from the line, and shot his way to the greatest output in Lakers history.
Bryant’s 2005-06 season was, and likely still is, his greatest season as a professional basketball player. He finished the season on this night in April with a 35-point outing in a win against the Hornets, securing his spot as the NBA’s leading scorer for the season. Bryant finished the year averaging 35.4 points, just over two points more than Allen Iverson’s 33.0 points per game average that year. His output that year ranks eighth all-time in NBA history for most points per game in a single season, and his 2832 points that season have only been topped by Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. He topped 40 points 27 times that year, scored more than 50 points six times, and twice scored over 60 points.
Bryant’s scoring heroics landed the Lakers in the playoffs as the seven seed, paired up with the Phoenix Suns. The Suns “7 seconds or less” offense fed right into Bryant’s hands, who was more than happy to play uptempo and get more shots up. Despite being the big underdog, the Lakers won the second and third games of the series, taking 2-1 series lead into Game 4 in LA. However, with just under 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lakers saw themselves trailing by two and the regular season MVP with the ball in Steve Nash. Shockingly, Nash lost the ball to Smush Parker, found Devean George, who found Bryant for the floating lay-up to tie the game with 0.7 seconds remaining.
But Bryant wasn’t done. With the Lakers down by 3 and 15.7 remaining, Bryant got to the rim for the quick lay-up. On the ensuing inbounds, the Lakers trapped Nash in near mid-court and forced a jump ball with Luke Walton. Walton easily won the tip, leaving Bryant with just under six seconds to work. Bryant drove to the elbow, elevated, and buried the jumper as time expired, giving the Lakers 3-1 series lead and the most iconic moment of his career.
The 2006 season saw raised expectations for the Lakers and even Bryant, despite his spectacular 2005-06 season. The Lakers started the year, however, flip-flopping wins never finding a true rhythm. Even Bryant wasn’t his normal self, averaging just 24 points through the first 12 games of the season. However, when Utah came to town in late November, Bryant found his touch. His 30-point third quarter blew the game open for the Lakers and also featured Bryant making 11 consecutive shots. Bryant would finish with 52 points on a blistering 19 of 26 from the field. The win would point the Lakers in the right direction, who won five of their next six and righted the ship.
At the end of February in 2007, the Lakers sat at 33-25 and had as good a shot as anyone at making the playoffs. That is until they went on a 7 game slide that put them at 33-32 and suddenly in danger of missing out on post-season play. With the Trailblazers coming to town and in desperate need of a victory, Bryant unleashed his second greatest scoring output of his career. With the Lakers down 7 and 1:40 remaining, Bryant unleashed 3 threes, the last one tying the game and sending the Lakers to overtime (remind you of any recent games?).
Bryant saved his best, and most dramatic, for last. With under a minute to go in overtime and the two teams deadlocked at 108, Bryant caught the ball in the corner and was immediately double-teamed. Bryant whirled and twirled around before forcing up a turnaround three pointer before the shot clock expired that found the bottom of the net. That would be the dagger for the Lakers, who went on to win the game behind Bryant’s 65 points. But Bryant was only getting started, which leads me to…..
Including the aforementioned 65 point showing by Bryant, the Black Mamba went on a four-game stretch that is quite possibly the best of all-time. Over the course of those four games, he totaled 225 points – individual games of 65, 50, 60, 50 points – which averages to 56.3 points a night. And as we stated before, they were critical games the Lakers needed to increase playoff chances.
Following the Blazers game, Bryant scored 50 points for the Lakers in a win over the Timberwolves. The Lakers then traveled to Memphis, where Bryant kept up his torrid pace by pouring in 60 points. He finished his scoring barrage the next night by dropping 50 on the Hornets. Since 1964, only Allen Iverson, Bernard King and Antawn Jamison, Wilt Chamberlain, and Rick Barry had back-to-back 50-point games, while Michael Jordan once strung together three straight. But no one has touched Bryant’s incredible streak of four consecutive 50 point nights.