posted on: Thursday February 6, 2020
by Leo Hainline ’22
In a 2006 mid-season game that nowadays some star players would consider taking off, the Los Angeles Lakers went up against Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors in the Staples Center.
The first quarter was nothing special and Toronto was up early. Kobe Bryant was keeping the Lakers in the game, but the Raptors had a serviceable cushion for most of the first half. Nobody would guess that he would end up dropping the second-most points in a single game in NBA history. At half time, despite Bryant having 26, the Lakers were down 63-49 and looked like they were on pace to drop their third game in a row.
Instead of waiting for his teammates to wake up from their off-night, Bryant took the initiative to elevate his game to the next level.
Down double digits, who else was going to get the Lakers back in the game? Lamar Odom? Bryant knew he was that guy who had to put the team on his back. He missed the first couple of shots of the third quarter but kept shooting and one after the other, his shots started to fall. Scoring three-buckets in a row, Bryant single-handedly cut the lead. Out of a timeout, Bryant got the ball, drove baseline, pulled up, pump-faked twice, got fouled and got the bucket. He was locked in—lay-ups, mid-range, threes, it didn’t matter where Bryant was on the court, he was going to score. With a minute left in the third quarter, Bryant stole the ball and got a fast-break dunk to take the lead and the entire crowd was up on their feet.
Bryant entered the fourth quarter with 53 points and was just getting started. Bryant kept attacking, driving to the bucket, hitting jump shots, getting to the line. Halfway through the fourth quarter, he got fouled on a three and surpassed his previous career-high of 62. Staples Center was hot—every time Bryant got the ball the people rose out of their seats and started cheering.
At this point, Bryant was pulling up every possession and extending the Lakers lead to close to 20. Everyone in the arena knew that this was one of the best individual performances in the history of basketball. He knocked down his final two free throws to finish with 81, and more important to him, a win for the Lakers.
This game, where one person singlehandedly outscored the opposing team in the second half, is a nice individual memory of Kobe Bryant as a basketball player, but Bryant’s legacy will be remembered for much more than his contributions to the game of basketball, or a single game for that matter. He will be remembered for his energy, hard work, commitment, faith, and love that he spread on a daily basis. The impact he had on his friends, family, and fans is much more significant than a number in the box score.
Another game that displayed Bryant’s tenacity occured seven years later at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
During their 80th game of the season, the Lakers were fighting to secure a playoff spot. The team was playing Bryant heavy minutes for this final stretch of games, trying to make the most of what was a bit of a disappointing season. Some of their new acquisitions did not exactly live up to expectations. Regardless of the situation, Bryant was still leading the team, scoring over 27 points a game and contributing on both ends of the court.
The Lakers were in a dogfight with the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. Bryant was repeatedly banged up in this physical game. In the third quarter, he was down for about a minute after hyperextending his knee but shook it off and continued to play through the pain. Late in the game, Bryant was knocking down threes and doing everything he could to put the Lakers into the lead.
With three minutes to go, the Lakers were down 109-107 and Bryant drove in on Harrison Barnes at the top of the key. He got fouled but immediately went down, grimacing, grabbing his left heel in what appeared to be a non-contact injury. The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately clear—he still had his game face on and limped over to the bench as the Lakers took a timeout.
Once the coverage resumed on TV it was obvious that Bryant was badly injured. Under his own power, he gingerly moved from the team huddle to the foul line, putting no pressure on his left foot. Down by two, Bryant stepped up and knocked down the first free throw.
At this point, you could see the emotion in his eyes—likely not from the pain of the injury but because he knew that he would be out for the game and rest of the season, unable to help his team.
The referee tossed him the ball, and again, Bryant stepped up and calmly hit the free throw. Tying it up late into the fourth quarter in what some considered to be a must-win game on a torn achilles takes much more than pure talent—it’s takes something that’s inherent in Bryant’s Mamba Mentality. The traits that Bryant possessed in his personality and mentality never just purely applied to basketball. They apply to life, and that is partly why Bryant is respected and beloved by so many people.
The determination he had to fight through the pain and knock down those shots in this single situation is representative of the tenacity he brought on a daily basis, both in basketball and outside the game.
by Sullivan Burgess ’20
Before the 2015-2016 NBA season, Kobe Bryant announced that it would be his last season after missing the majority of the previous two seasons due to injury. Immediately fans began to purchase tickets to get the chance to see one of the greatest players of all-time one more time. Bryant’s farewell tour was made with applause from other team’s fans, jersey swaps with a player from every team, and retirement gifts. With each passing game, anticipation rose for the regular season finale on April 13 at the Staples Center against the Utah Jazz. The Los Angeles Lakers came into the game 16-65 and had been long out of playoff-contention, meaning this was going to be Bryant’s final appearance.
Every former Laker and celebrity that you can possibly think of were in attendance to watch the Black Mamba play in his last ever NBA game. Bryant, the final player left from the 1996 NBA draft, was ready to put on a show one last time and let everyone know, including his daughters and wife, that he was not going to go out quietly.
During the season, Bryant averaged 17.6 points per game in 66 games. Expectations were high that Bryant was due for something special, and special was just an understatement of what happened on that night. After being down by 15 at halftime, Bryant put the Lakers on his back one final time and gave one last memorable game. After scoring 22 points at halftime, Bryant exploded for 42 points in the second half to finish with 60 in his final game.
In the final minute with his team down 95-96, Bryant hit a mid-range jump shot to give the Lakers the lead 97-96. He would seal the game with 15 seconds left by hitting two free throws to make it 99-96. The Lakers gave Bryant the chance for one final curtain call by subbing him out with four seconds left to a standing ovation by the home crowd. Bryant gave the crowd one last salute before walking off the floor forever and leaving everyone with a moment they will not forget.
The other moment that will forever define Bryant’s legacy is when the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals. The two teams also met in 2008 when the Celtics took the series in six games. Boston was looking for their second title with their Big Three. Meanwhile, Bryant was ready to bring LA back-to-back championships and win his fifth overall. Going into Game Six Boston held at 3-2 advantage in the series with two chances to take the series. The Lakers made sure there would be a Game Seven after beating down on the Celtics 89-67. Bryant scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Lakers forced a Game Seven on their home court.
While Boston held the lead after three quarters with the title close in their sights, Bryant was going to make sure his team did not go out quietly. After averaging 27 points during season, Bryant scored a game-high 23 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter in a tight battle with the Celtics. The Lakers pulled ahead late in the game pulled out the 83-79 win. The series gave Bryant his fifth ring and second Finals MVP award. He averaged 28.6 points per game during the series and shot 40.5 percent from the field.
This series helped cement Bryant as an all-time great, putting him one championship behind his idol Michael Jordan. After winning his first three titles with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant showed that he could lead a team on his own and carry them when needed most.
Kobe Bryant was more than an athlete, he was a leader, MVP, father, and most importantly a legend amongst all the branches of sports. He will be missed and never be forgotten for his actions on the court and the greatness he achieved off the court.