This past weekend we witnessed Kobe Bryant participate in his final All-Star game before retiring at the end of the season. It has been a year of celebration for Bryant after declaring his retirement earlier in the season. On Sunday, Kobe played in his incredible 18th All-Star game in Toronto that many called bittersweet. It's the best way to describe it since the NBA will surely not be the same when Kobe walks away. It would have been even more perfect had the former four-time NBA All-Star MVP been able to make it five but it wasn't meant to be. Kobe flirted with a triple-double but it was Russell Westbrook that would be named MVP after leading the West to victory.
Still all eyes were on Bryant as this was his night. He was named a starter for the West after leading all players in All-Star voting. The future Hall-of-Famer is one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. He will walk away as the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. A team's history that is full of franchise players and championships. His 18th All-Star berth is only one shy behind former player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most all time. During his 20 year career, Kobe has put on performances that cannot be put into words. He is the mentor of today's players. The Lakers are not the powerhouse they were earlier in Kobe's career, and are still in rebuilding mode, so there will be no championship trophy celebration at the end like for Peyton Manning with the Broncos, but it's not necessary. Kobe has already done it all and then some in his career. This year will continue to be played out as Kobe's season of goodbye. This past weekend was just another ending to a great chapter in Kobe's career. It's hard to rank them all but we countdown the top 15 greatest Kobe Bryant moments.
15 First Career Point - 11/5/1996
Even the eventual Lakers scoring champ had to start somewhere. It may have just been a free throw but how crazy is it that Kobe's first point came in Madison Square Garden? Just feels like destiny that his career was meant for greatness. That free throw was Kobe's only point of the night but he would go on to score more. A lot more. Kobe was the youngest NBA player ever at the time so the Lakers were bringing on the youngster with limited minutes. He was still backing up guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel, so Bryant only saw three minutes of court time that night in the Garden. He'd see plenty of minutes in a more historic night at the Garden later in his career.
14 Kobe Scores 33 on Jordan - 12/17/1997
Of course the Bulls were the dominant team of the 1990s and this random night in December 1997 was no different when it came to the final score. Chicago won handily, 104-83, but it was Bryant who showed that he'd be ready to fill Jordan's shoes when the time came. Jordan led the game with 36 points but Kobe had 33 of the Lakers 83 points. He stood toe-to-toe with the greatest player in the world in the start of his second season and still a teenager. Jordan and the rest of the league were put on notice that this was more than just a really good kid out of high school. This was a future legend. And he showed it on the wrong end of a blowout. In his final meeting with Jordan, Bryant would put on an even more impressive performance.
13 Kobe Scores 33 In A Half Against Magic - 3/21/1999
Fifteen months after scoring 33 on Jordan, Kobe again scored 33. This time it was in a half. March 1999 was supposed to be about Shaquille O'Neal's big return to Orlando but Kobe took the spotlight. Orlando was up by 20 at halftime but the second half was owned by Kobe and the Lakers. Bryant scored 33 of his 38 points in the second half and he led the Lakers from behind for the victory. The league was finding out that Bryant was a player that could score at will and there was nothing anybody could do about it. The question on everyone's mind was "Is this Shaq's team or Kobe's?"
12 1997 Slam Dunk Champion
It was only fitting that Kobe would enter and win the Slam Dunk contest early in his career. Kobe had some emphatic dunks in his career and it carried over into the All-Star weekend in 1997. Bryant defeated Michael Finley and Chris Carr in the finals of the slam dunk contest after performing an impressive dunk that saw Bryant go between his legs and slamming it home. He would become the youngest player to ever win the event. Bryant had a busy All-Star weekend in '97 as he also performed in the Rookie Challenge game the night before. Bryant had a game-high 31 points in the game but Allen Iverson received MVP honors after the East defeated the West.
11 Final Meeting Against Jordan - 3/28/2003
If you thought Kobe's first matchup against Jordan was impressive then you should've seen his final game against the legendary Hall-of-Famer. Jordan finished out his career with the Washington Wizards and squared up against Kobe for the last time in March 2003. Just two months prior, Kobe set a then NBA record with 12 three-pointers in a game against Seattle. You just knew he was going to come to play against the great one. Kobe put on an epic show, scoring 42 points in the first half alone, setting a Lakers record for most points in a half. He'd finish the game with 55 total in a cruising victory against the Wizards. Jordan couldn't help but laugh and be amazed at Kobe' accomplishments. Like the first time they met, Kobe showed Jordan that he was ready to take the reigns from him as the greatest player in the game.
10 Game Winner Against Suns - 4/30/2006
Clearly, Kobe has had some memorable buzzer beaters and game winners throughout his career. There's so many of them that the majority had to be left off this list because there's so much that Bryant has accomplished. One of his most memorable game winners came against the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2006 Playoffs. What makes it so great is not just that it was in the playoffs but also a two-part game winner. First, after an inbounds steal by Lakers guard Smush Parker from Suns guard Steve Nash, Kobe managed to tie the game after connecting on a tough layup in transition to send the game into overtime. In overtime, down by one, Kobe took the ball down the court after a jump ball and nailed the game winner as time expired. The place erupted and fans immediately started to chant "MVP" for good measure. The game put the Lakers up in the series, 3-1, but the Suns stormed back to win the series in seven games.
9 Four-Time All-Star MVP & Tribute
I was really pulling for Kobe this past week to receive another MVP award in the All-Star game but it did not come to fruition. Had he earned his fifth MVP, he would've held sole possession for most MVPs in All-Star game history. Still, he shares the prestige with Bob Pettit, and his last MVP performance came in Los Angeles in front of a home crowd. The tribute to Kobe before the All-Star game in Toronto presented by Magic Johnson was a truly special moment for the special player. Bryant is still the youngest player to ever play in the All-Star game and the only ever teenager. Even though not an official record, his 18 All-Star selections are an unprecedented accomplishment.
8 Four Straight 50+ Games
Kobe Bryant scored his first 50 point game in December 2000 in a duel against Antawn Jamison, who also reached 50 in the game, which the Lakers would eventually lose. In March 2007, Kobe scored 50+ in four consecutive games, tying Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player to do so. In two of those games, against Portland and Memphis, Bryant went for 60+. Not to take anything away from Wilt Chamberlain but Kobe did it at a time when defense is a big factor in how basketball is played. During Wilt's days, most games looked like an All-Star game with little to no defense being played and ridiculously high scores. Bryant was not able to make it five in a row as Golden State would "slowdown" the scoring champ and hold him to just (gulp) 43 points.
7 Youngest Player to Reach 10k, 20k, 30k Points
It's no surprise coming out of high school and as the legitimate scorer that we all know Kobe is, that he would become the youngest to reach all the milestones in points scored. It's a high possibility that Kobe could've been the first to reach 40,000 points but injuries later in his career derailed that opportunity. He was the first player to reach 10,000 points before his 25th birthday in March 2003. LeBron James would eventually break Bryant's record by reaching the milestone at just 23 years old.
Ironically, Bryant reached 20,000 points at Madison Square Garden where he scored his first career point. Bryant was only 29 when he reached 20k but, again, James broke his record when he reached the milestone at 28. Fortunately, Bryant's record of youngest to reach 30,000 points is still intact as Lebron has not yet reached that point. Lebron is sure to break Kobe's record but as it stands, Kobe is the only player to reach 30,000 points under the age of 35 and just the fifth player overall to get there.
6 62 Points in 3 Quarters - 12/20/2005
A Kobe Bryant in his prime is a very scary Kobe Bryant. At age 27, Kobe scored 62 points in just three quarters in a regular season matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. He did not play at all in the 4th quarter so we're left to wonder just how many points he could've scored had Dallas kept it relatively close. The Lakers won the game in a huge blowout. It was so bad, in fact, that after 3 quarters, Kobe by himself was beating the Mavericks 62-61. Surely, he could've reached 80 if the game had been competitive. Not to worry though since Kobe would get there just one month later.
5 2008 Olympics
By 2008, it seemed that Kobe had done everything you could possibly do. Everything that is except win an Olympic gold medal. Well that get checked off his bucket list in the summer of 2008. It's well known that anything less than a gold medal is unacceptable in U.S. basketball. No matter how good players from other countries may be, we have the best. Period.
Kobe was a part of the disappointing 2004 U.S. team and was looking for redemption in 2008. Fitting, since the 2008 team was dubbed "The Redeem Team." Just one day after turning the dirty 30, Bryant scored 20 points and helped team America capture the gold against Spain. For most of his career, Bryant often looked like a serious guy but after winning the gold, he never looked happier. As much as he loved winning NBA Championships, Bryant admitted that there was no better feeling than winning gold for his country. Four years later, Bryant won his second gold medal when the U.S. won it all again in the London games.
4 61 Points in Madison Square Garden - 2/2/2009
It's unclear whether or not if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow or not in 2009 but on this Groundhog Day, it was clear that everyone on the court was in the shadow of Kobe Bryant. Kobe set a then Madison Square Garden record for most points in a game with 61. The same Garden where he scored his first career point in the NBA. By game's end, fans were echoing "MVP" chants throughout the Garden. Quite impressive when you think about it considering it was an opposing player they were cheering for but that's Kobe for you. Current Knick, Carmelo Anthony, eventually broke Kobe's record in 2014 with 62 points but Kobe still holds the record for an opposing player.
3 Passed Jordan on All-Time Scoring List - 12/14/2014
Even to this day people still talk about who's better, Kobe or Jordan? It's one of the most talked about topics in break rooms and next to water jugs. Fans on the side of Kobe were given a great argument in December 2014 when Kobe passed Jordan on the all-time scoring list. In fact, Kobe has broken just about every record that Jordan set even though Jordan does have one up on him in the championship department. However, in a game against Minnesota, Kobe finally surpassed Jordan and moved into 3rd place on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Currently sitting at over 33,000 points, Bryant will also finish 3rd on that list when he retires at the end of the season.
2 81 Points Against Toronto - 1/22/2006
One month after scoring 62 points in three quarters against Dallas, Kobe Bryant did the unimaginable. Kobe scored an incredible 81 points in an afternoon game against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points ever scored in a game. Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game in 1962 may never be touched but this was history in itself. The eventual scoring champ had to play this entire game as he single-handedly put the Lakers on his back to victory.
Kobe scored 26 points in the first half but Toronto was up by as many as 18 points in the half. Kobe took over the second half, scoring 55, which is 14 more than the entire Raptors squad. The Lakers would not only erase that 18-point deficit but they would go on to win 122-104. Kobe's night of 81 is, arguably, the greatest showing in NBA history. Scoring 81 of your team's 122 points may come off as selfish on the surface but sometimes in order to be great you have to be selfish. Of course, Kobe who's always been his biggest critic, found something to critique on this amazing achievement. On the seven year anniversary of his 81 scoring night, Kobe tweeted that he was watching the game again and noticed all of his easy missed shot. He says he could've scored 100 had they gone in.
1 Five Championships & Lakers All-Time Leading Scorer
Groundhog Day may secretly be one of Kobe's favorite days of the year. Exactly one year after dropping 61 points in the Garden, Kobe became the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Yes, Kareem finished his career with the most points in history but he also played some time with the Bucks. Outside of the Boston Celtics, no team has more history than the Los Angeles Lakers. For Kobe to surpass guys like Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Shaq, it shows how electric a player Kobe has been in his career. Kobe scored 44 on that night.
In his 20-year career, Kobe was able to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy five times. With Shaq and head coach Phil Jackson, Kobe and the Lakers completed a three-peat in June 2002. His favorite championship, however, may have been in 2009 when the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. It was his first championship without Shaq and proved the nay-sayers wrong, who said he couldn't win a title without the big man. He did it again the following year against the Celtics, in a thrilling seven game series. Not surprisingly, Kobe was named Finals MVP for both championships.