It’s Mamba Day, and the world feels a lot more empty without Kobe Bryant in it on 8/24.
The late Lakers legend would have celebrated his 42nd birthday Sunday. He should have celebrated more accomplishments unrelated to basketball in the decades ahead. Now, all we’re left with is celebrating the accolades Bryant left us from decades ago.
Kobe is no longer with us — and it’s still a mind-numbing development to process. To honor Bryant, let’s relive his ten greatest moments on and off the court.
10. The Lob Heard 'Round the World
It was the lob heard around the world. It was the pass that started it all.
On the brink of elimination against the Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers rallied back from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit and secured the first big sports shocker of the century.
The play that punctuated their first of three championship seasons still stands as one of the most iconic connections in NBA history — Bryant dribbles the ball down the court and connects with Shaquille O’Neal for a thunderous alley-oop dunk to put the game away for good.
"This is what makes champions," Bryant said. "We watched Game 7s growing up all the time, and to finally play in one is a real thrill."
9. Kobe Comes of Age in the 2000 NBA Finals
The 21-year-old Bryant was already in his fourth season in the league, but during Game 4 of NBA Finals vs. Indiana in 2000, he immediately matured into a bona fide star overnight.
With the Lakers up two games to one in the series, Shaq fouled out in overtime with just over three minutes to play. Bryant went on a scoring tear and put the team on his back in the tit-for-tat battle by scoring six of his 28 points with O’Neal on the bench to sneak by the Pacers with a two-point win.
Bryant’s tip-in with 5.9 seconds left in the game proved to be the decisive bucket.
"This is the game you dream about as you're growing up," Bryant said. "You lose yourself in the moment. You're consumed by the game."
8. A Pair of Clutch Shots to Win Division Title
Division titles for the Lakers don’t mean a thing without the ring, but on April 14, 2004, in the last game of the season, Bryant made sure they left Portland with the Pacific crown by netting two improbable three pointers.
The first closely-defended triple was drained on the self-billed “Kobe Stopper” Ruben Patterson with 1.1 seconds left in regulation. The second three-pointer was in overtime as the clock hit zero with a fadeaway three-pointer.
The result meant that the Lakers would enter the playoffs with the No. 2 seed instead of No. 4.
7. Kobe Against the World
By Dec. 20, 2005, Shaq had already left Tinseltown, so Bryant was shouldering much of the scoring burden for the Lakers. In one of the rarest accomplishments in NBA history, Bryant single-handedly outscored the Mavericks by scoring 62 points in three quarters while Dallas had just 61.
The Lakers were up by 34 points heading into the fourth, and Bryant didn’t play a single second in the final 12 minutes, turning down coach Phil Jackson’s proposition to continue his historic shooting night.
Bryant’s final stat line in under 33 minutes of work: 18 of 31 field goals, four out of 10 three-pointers, 22 of 25 free throws, eight rebounds and three steals, and yes, 62 big ones.
"I just felt like I could continue to attack these guys," Bryant said afterward. "It was just determination, take it to them. It's definitely the best scoring game I've ever had."
6. Torching Toronto for 81
As it turns out, Bryant’s 62 piece was just an appetizer. Thirty-three days later, on Jan. 22, 2006, Bryant scored the second-most points in NBA history when he went off for an 81-point explosion against the Raptors.
What made the lights out performance even more remarkable was that the Lakers were trailing by 18 points in the third quarter.
Bryant ended the night 28-of-46 shooting, with 7-of-13 from beyond the arc and 18-of-20 from the charity stripe.
"Not even in my dreams," Bryant said afterward. "That was something that just happened. It's tough to explain. It's just one of those things. It really hasn't, like, set in for me. It's about the `W,' that's why I turned it on. It turned into something special. To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying."
Bryant basked in his glory on social media eight years later.
Down 14, I'm heating up...at this point I wouldn't pass a kidney stone #countonkobe— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 22, 2013
Watching the game now, the easy shots I missed, I could of had 100 pts! #countonkobe— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 22, 2013
5. Four Consecutive 50 burgers
During a one-week stretch from March 16 to 23 in 2007, Bryant balled out with four consecutive 50-plus point games, totalling 225 points and four wins.
Here’s what the hellacious output looked like:
March 16, 2007: Lakers 116, Trail Blazers 111 (OT)
65 points on 23-of-39 shooting, 8-of-12 on threes, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
March 18, 2007: Lakers 109, Timberwolves 102
50 points on 17-of-35 shooting, 4-of-9 on threes, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
March 22, 2007: Lakers 121, Grizzlies 119
60 points on 20-of-37 shooting, 3-of-7 on threes, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
March 23, 2007: Lakers 111, Hornets 105
50 points on 16-of-29 shooting, 2-of-5 on threes, 16-of-16 free throws, 7 rebounds
The streak stopped on March 25, when Bryant scored a paltry 43 points on 15-of-33 shooting.
"Off-night," Bryant quipped with a smile.
4. MVP! MVP! MVP!
During the latter half of his career, anytime Bryant stepped to the free-throw line, no matter the juncture of the game, Staples Center fans reigned the eponymous “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chant.
After 12 seasons in the NBA, Bryant finally won his first and only MVP award during the 2007-2008 regular season.
Bryant played all 82 games that year and averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 steals.
Lebron James and Steve Nash combined to steal six of the honors. Bryant had four other top-three MVP seasons during his career.
As for other MVPs, Bryant had four in the All-Star Game, and two in the NBA Finals.
3. Mamba Mentality
On April 12, 2013, Bryant suffered the first major injury of his career when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon.
The game was played against the upstart Golden State Warriors, and the career-altering moment occurred when Bryant was fouled with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers down by two.
Los Angeles called a timeout to give Bryant a quick break to recover not knowing the severity of the injury.
Bryant hobbled to the locker room to a standing ovation, but he was never the same physically. In the last three years of his career, he averaged just 17.9 points a game, which might be great for most, but not Bryant, who retired with a 25 points per game average as the league's third-all time leading scorer.
2. Kobe's Goes Out in Style
Bryant’s miraculous career and staggering legacy came to a close April 13, 2016 in mesmerizing fashion. The 37-year-old suited up for the last time in purple and gold and scored 60 points, including 23 points in the fourth quarter to lead a rally from a 15-point deficit for a 101-96 win against the Jazz.
All in all, Bryant willed his way to play 42 minutes and took a career-high 50 shots in the game, making 22. It was Bryant’s first 50-plus point game since February 2009, and he also became the oldest player to score 50 or more in a game.
"It's hard to believe it happened this way," Bryant said. "I'm still shocked about it. ... The perfect ending would have been a championship. But tonight was (me) trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time."
Bryant literally dropped the mic after the game from the Lakers logo from halfcourt, saying “I love you guys … What can I say, Mamba out!”
1. Kobe continues his winning ways
Bryant immediately set himself up for life after basketball by overseeing a $100 million venture capital fund. He also formed a content startup company called Granity Studios, where he developed and created the short animation “Dear Basketball.”
The Hollywood circles Bryant entertained for two decades on the hardwood floor took notice of Bryant’s prowess in the production room, as he won Best Animated Short Film during the 2018 Academy Awards.
The second act of Bryant’s career in creating content had endless potential until it was cut short on January 29, 2020, in a fatal helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. A total of nine people lost their lives, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration