Kobe Bryant has seen his fair share of great moments in the NBA. On the heels of him announcing that this season will indeed be his last, here are five of the best moments from his incredible basketball career.
5. The “Redeem” team
It seems strange to think of a basketball powerhouse like the United States struggling on the world stage, but their 2004 Olympic performance was nowhere near the standard of excellence the country was used to seeing at the Olympics.
After suffering their largest ever international loss in the form of a 92-73 blowout against Puerto Rico, their gold medal hopes were dashed with a semifinal loss against Argentina. While they still won a bronze, it was considered a massive disappointment.
Bryant was named captain of the 2008 Olympic team, dubbed the “Redeem Team” by many who hoped that this team would lead the U.S. back to the top of the podium.
After going 5-0 in the preliminary round, the U.S. exercised their demons, and went on to beat Spain 118-107 in the gold medal game. Bryant would score 20 points in that game, including hitting a clutch three-pointer after being fouled to put the game out of Spain’s reached. The shushing motion Bryant made after hitting the shot is one of the most iconic of his career.
4. Scoring 50 points in four straight games
When you’re as good as Kobe Bryant is, there are some days where you just decide that nobody can stop you, no matter what they do.
From March 16 to 23, 2007, Bryant scored over 50 points in four consecutive games, starting the streak with a 65 point performance in a 116-111 overtime win against the Portland Trailblazers. The most impressive thing about this streak is that Bryant was doing this scoring in clutch situations — all of these games were decided by less than 10 points.
Bryant scored 60 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the third game of the streak, which turned out to be a nail biting, 121-119 win for his Lakers.
His streak was snapped March 25 when the Golden State Warriors “held” him to only 43 points in what was probably their best defensive performance in franchise history.
3. His first All-Star game
Among the many distinctions and records Bryant holds in his career, his first All-Star game start may be one of the most impressive.
Despite not even being a starter that season, Bryant was still voted in by the fans, and at 19 years of age, became the youngest player to ever start an NBA All-Star game, and the only teenager to ever do so.
The 1998 All-Star game also marks the only time that Bryant and Michael Jordan faced off when Jordan was wearing a Bulls uniform. Bryant scored a team high 18 points for the Western Conference All-Stars, while Jordan collected MVP honours by pouring in 23 points, all while he was sick with the flu. It was a reminder of how great Jordan was, and how great Bryant would become.
2. 2007-2008 MVP season
Despite being widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Bryant has only won the NBA MVP once: in the 2007-2008 season.
He averaged 28.3 points per game while playing in all 82 games, and despite supposedly demanding a trade before the season started, he still led the Lakers all the way to the NBA finals, before they eventually lost to the Boston Celtics.
Bryant also played the last quarter of the season with a severe finger injury that would normally have required surgery, although he refused it until after the season was finished.
Bryant received 82 per cent of first place votes in the MVP race, and easily captured the first and only MVP of his career.
1. 81 points against the Raptors
In what will probably go down as one of the best single game performances of all time, aside from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Bryant decided to make the Toronto Raptors look like a recreation league team on the night of Jan. 22, 2006.
While 81 points is more than impressive on its own, the majority if Bryant’s scoring came in the second half, when his Lakers actually trailed 71-53 at the half. Bryant would absolutely torch the Raptors for 55 points in the second half, singlehandedly willing his team to a 122-104 win. Bryant outscored his next highest scoring teammate by 68 points. If that doesn’t tell you all you all you need to know about this game and how great it was, then nothing will.