“I’m young. And I’m just gonna play hard. Who knows?”Kobe Bryant, 1996
Oh you did. You definitely did.
You had us all played right from the start Mr. Bean. But looking back now, all of us – every single one – are eternally grateful for that.
We’re all still in utter disbelief at everything that happened yesterday. I myself, stared for hours at my laptop trying to compose this. I wept silent tears and maybe some not so silent ones. I felt I could just hide away for days.
But you wouldn’t want that.
So here I am writing this during the early morning hours a day after you passed. Just like you would wake up and hit the gym before the sun was up.
This is my tribute to you.
Kobe’s storied career has a handful of historic moments. I decided to list down my top eight Mamba Moments, to honor the young, brash, afro-headed version that rocked the purple and gold. Most of these happened during the tenure of the transformed version that wore number 24. The full-fledged Black Mamba with maturity beyond his years.
1. The 81-Point Game
January 22, 2006 was a Sunday.
An afternoon game against the young and struggling Toronto Raptors didn’t even merit national TV.
The Raptors had the young Chris Bosh looking to break through in the Playoffs. The Lakers meanwhile, were a struggling middle of the pack team, led by Kobe with a supporting cast made up of Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, and Smush Parker.
Being just 28 at the time, Mamba was at the peak of his powers. And with his team struggling, he picked up the slack. All of it.
His final statline: 81 points on 28-of-46 shooting (He shot 60%, haters!), seven three-pointers, 18/20 from the line, six rebounds, three steals, a block, and two assists.
When the smoke cleared, Kobe had the second-highest scoring game of all-time. How many other players in the league failed to even score eight points. What more 81?
Oh, and that was the only game his grandmother ever watched of him live.
2. Shutting up the Beijing crowd
“I went to Beijing and came back with the bling!”
That’s the verse L’il Wayne in his Kobe Bryant song
The best basketball players in the world all dream of a time when they can silence the crowd. But not everyone has the chance to do so.
Kobe did, back in 2008. He did as the whole world watched during the Olympic Gold Medal Game, against a powerhouse Spanish team.
That image of him getting a pass from Dwyane Wade, jab stepping Rudy Fernandez out of the picture, and hitting that long-bomb from the left wing and then lifting his index finger to his mouth? That’s gotta be one of the best basketball moments ever. That clutch shot ended a Spanish rebellion and gave Team USA enough of a cushion to finish their mission of reclaiming the gold medal.
That was International Mamba at his finest.
3. Winning the 2009 All-Star Weekend Co-MVP with Shaq
Laker fans would like to live in a world where Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe played together forever. But that’s not the reality we all live in. Shaq moved on, while Kobe stayed. The two former teammates suddenly turned into bitter rivals, trying to win games (some petty ones) over each other.
But in 2009, the two relived their partnership, even if it was just for one night.
With Shaq experiencing a revival of sorts during his stint in Phoenix, he was able to make the All-Star team and tag-teamed with fellow West All-Star Kobe for one final night. The two totaled 44 points, nin rebounds, and seven assists in a highly entertaining blowout.
All those years fans thought they had real beef, just pure hatred for each other.
But that night proved otherwise. The two looked like they were having fun playing with each other, en route to a shared All-Star MVP award. Kobe even giving Shaq the trophy to give to his son Shareef – another player Kobe who inspired to try and become one of the next greats.
4. Kobe doesn’t flinch
We’ve all had bullies in our lives at one point or another.
By not flinching twice when Matt Barnes shoved that ball at his face, Kobe showed both his fearlessness and his toughness That moment proved that Kobe was unafraid of anyone in the league.
He knew that being one of the best in this game, he wasn’t supposed to back down from a rough-looking, tattoo-filled enforcer who was employed by opposing teams to literally try and stop him from doing what he did best.
Just like Kobe said: “We don’t quit, we don’t cower.”
He literally didn’t.
Looking back, that moment may have been what convinced Barnes to sign with the Lakers the following season.
5. 2010 Finals Game 7 postgame presscon
“Just got one more than Shaq. And you can take that to the bank.”
When a reporter asked him the significance of this fifth title, Kobe didn’t beat around the bush. Just went straight up with it, no regrets or hesitations. It was clear in his voice and how intensely he spoke what his motivation was.
Everyone carries a different kind of monkey on their backs, sometimes for years. For Kobe his motivation in 2010 was simple — that that he couldn’t win a championship without Shaq.
Imagine being in Kobe’s shoes on the night of June 17, 2010 after finally being able to get that monkey off his back, surpassing his former teammate in the process. And to do it against his rivals, the Boston Celtics a team that took a championship away from him two years prior?
That’s gotta be one of the sweetest days of his life.
6. 2011 All-Star Showcase in Manila
Back in 2011, Pinoys got the weekend of a lifetime when a group of NBA superstars flew to Manila during the lockout. Everyone was treated to an incredible show.
In their first game against the PBA All-Stars, fans actually saw two MVPs – both in the height of their careers – connect on a spectacular alley-oop that had the sold out Araneta Center crowd up and roaring.
Off a Kevin Durant block on the defensive end, the NBA All-Stars were all running down the floor on the break. Kobe got the ball, faked a pass behind his back, and lobbed it over everyone to the reigning MVP of the past season, Derrick Rose.
It was an awesome moment, probably the most memorable highlight of their trip to Manila.
Not everyone had the chance to watch that play happen live. It was only us, Filipino basketball fans here in Manila. That’s what made that moment extra special. It was our moment with Kobe.
7. Achilles Free Throws
This game summed up who Kobe Bryant was.
Even up to this day, the entire basketball world remembers the injury and how Kobe braved through pain to help his team win. With two memorable shots from the line, Kobe showcased who he really was. Those free throws showed every bit of his being.
To fall down and get back up. To try and try, even when all else seems impossible. To do something even if you couldn’t anymore. That’s what Kobe showed in 2013.
That was Mamba Mentality.
8. 60-Point Farewell
When people leave a job, do they see themselves being escorted out to a throng of people clapping and high-fiving? When they retire, do they see a special party full of all the people they’ve met, affected and influenced along the way?
Not everyone deserves that kind of farewell.
But Kobe does.
Kobe’s final game was one of the best – if not the best – sendoffs in history. Not just in sports but in the history of the world.
Kobe scored 60 points on 50 shots including the game-winner after pulling the Lakers back from an eight-point deficit with a little over two minutes left in the game. No one else could end an epic career with an equally epic game.
To make it even more poetic he did it against the same team that haunted him at the beginning of his career (Utah Jazz) and ended his career in the same way he began (Hitting two free throws). It was a perfect ending seemingly written long ago by the basketball gods.
Kobe can be described in many ways. But one word comes to my mind when thinking about him
Thank you Kobe. For imparting us with the inspiration, drive, passion, and motivation to reach for greatness. Thank you for teaching us to embrace the long nights, countless days, and numerous reps we do in our own lives. Thank you for teaching us to push through, even when we don’t want to anymore, and to get going when everything seems impossible.
Mahal ka namin, Mamba.