Goodbye Kobe: A True Lakers Legend
Words can’t describe the sadness surrounding the passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. On Sunday 26 January 2020, the pair were in a helicopter crash near Calabasas that killed nine people in total. While the circumstances and reasons for the crash are still being investigated, the world responded in shock to the untimely loss of one of basketball’s greatest players.
Kobe Bryant was a crossover athlete, whose ability was known outside of basketball fan groups. For Lakers fans, there are few better players to have worn the jersey. In many minds, he is the greatest Laker of all time.
Bryant spent his entire 20-year playing career with the Lakers. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets but traded immediately to the Lakers. That trade was perhaps one of the most significant in Lakers history. The Black Mamba would go on to win five NBA championships with the Lakers, became the third-highest point scorer in NBA history (LeBron James surpassed him into third spot this season), and is the leading Lakers point scorer in franchise history (forget about LeBron catching that record).
Kobe Bryant’s greatest career moments
As tributes pour in, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of his outstanding career moments. There are of course many more than these, and each Lakers fan will have their own special memories of Kobe.
Three-peat with Shaquille O’Neal
From the start of his career, Bryant was focused on being the best. He earned respect from more experienced players on the Laker roster. In 1999, Phil Jackson took the reigns, and Bryant’s career took off. Jackson helped make Bryant one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. He also helped to foster an exceptional combination with Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal and Bryant would go on to achieve three seasons of bliss for every Lakers fan. The famous three-peat of three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Bryant started all the NBA playoff games in each of the three years, averaging over 20 points during the three-peat. Every Lakers fan should take the time to watch the highlights of those three seasons.
While the off-court relationship with Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t great by 2004, it improved after O’Neal’s retirement. The two grew closer after retiring and were in regular contact. O’Neal’s son has since revealed that Bryant messaged him on the morning of the crash to check on how he was doing.
The Lakers championship rings of 2009 and 2010 solidified Bryant as a Lakers great. The return of head coach Phil Jackson once again brought out the best in Bryant. The manner in which Bryant won these titles also shows how he had evolved his game over the years. In both the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals, Bryant was nominated as the Finals MVP.
In the first game of the 2009 NBA Finals, Bryant scored 40 points with eight rebounds and eight assists. It was a masterclass and set the momentum for the Lakers to win the Finals four games to one. In each of the five games, Bryant led the team in points and assists.
In the 2010 NBA Finals, Bryant again got off to a flyer against age-old rivals – the Celtics. Bryant scored 30 points, with 6 assists and 7 rebounds. The Finals was a classic and went to seven games for it to be decided. Ultimately, Bryant made the difference in Game 7. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to win a second consecutive NBA championship.
The Lakers went able to complete a second three-peat of the decade though. The 2010 win remains the last NBA championship that the Lakers have won. It is perhaps a fitting legacy that Bryant was the NBA Finals MVP of that championship.
Kobe Bryant’s last Lakers game
While the last few years of his career were blighted by injuries, Bryant’s last season felt like a farewell show. Each game was a chance to take in the Lakers legend one more time. His final game was the perfect ending to such a great player.
Bryant’s last Lakers game was against the Utah Jazz on 13 April 2016. For many mourning his loss, this game is the perfect tonic to relive what we loved about Bryant. Bryant ended the game with an unbelievable 60 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. When he sinks the shot to get to 60 points, the arena erupts. He left the court with four seconds remaining and was instantly smothered by teammates. The Lakers won the game 101-96. It couldn’t have been scripted better.
Byrant is the only player in the league to have two retired jerseys with the same franchise. He has the number 8 and the number 24. He first took the number 8 when we joined the Lakers as it was one of the few available. By 2006 he had decided to change his number to 24.
The change was significant in that it also serves as a marker between his young career as part of the three-peat and his team-leading career as part of the back-to-back championships.
Bryant played with the number 24 and 33 in high school. Number 33 is of course retired by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Going back to 24 brought his basketball journey full circle.
In December 2017, both jersey numbers were retired by the Lakers in a ceremony at the Staples Center. It was a special moment for Bryant and his family.
Post retirement years
As a player, the Black Mamba was known for his relentless focus on winning. He wasn’t afraid of a challenge and often struck a very serious demeanor. Interestingly, after retirement, the world saw a much gentler Bryant. He didn’t spend the time jumping into broadcasting or making headline grabbing statements. Instead, he spent the time going to games with his family.
In the truest sense, it showed Bryant as a family man. He could often be spotted explaining plays and moves to his daughters. One daughter, in particular, received this expert advice – Gianna, who aspired to be a future WNBA player.
Sadly the pair won’t be seen at the Staples Center again. It is the depth of this truth that hits home for all Lakers fans. Our thoughts go out to his wife and surviving daughters as they deal with this immense loss.