January 26, 2020 is a date that will live in infamy in the hearts and minds of basketball fans across the globe. The day of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing in a helicopter accident which took eight lives, including his daughter Gianna, is one of those morbid ‘where were you when you found out’ kind of moments in time. Bryant’s tenacity to win through sheer force and will took form in his scoring prowess and famed ‘Mamba Mentality’.
Kobe played 32 games against the Washington Wizards in his career, including a lone contest against the Bullets during his rookie season. During those games, the Lakers went 21-11 and Kobe averaged 25.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists while shooting 43.5/40.1/92.4 field-goal, three-point, and free-throw splits. In those games, he scored over 40 points three times and posted three triple-doubles.
What are his best and most memorable performances out of those 32? Let us take a closer look.
Iverson leading the comeback with Kobe guarding him. Kobe hitting Js over Mutombo down the stretch. Marbury coming up clutch. This is what an All-Star game should look like. These dudes wanted to win! Thank you @Ballislife for digging in the crates:pic.twitter.com/WSOeS1HHET— Jesse Washington (@jessewashington) February 11, 2020
Although not good enough to qualify for the top-five, here are a few legendary moments worthy of inclusion.
Dunking on Ben Wallace (1997)
Flying into the lane as a second-year pro, Bryant found a rookie Ben Wallace planted under the rim. What transpired next is arguably the best dunk of his career.
Duel vs. Iverson at the 2001 All-Star game
Although it was not technically against the Wizards, Bryant dueled against Allen Iverson in the 2001 All-Star game at the former MCI Center.
In the midst of a sensational second-half tear to thrust the 2012-13 Lakers into the playoffs, Bryant took siege on the Wizards. It is important to note that this is his final game against Washington before rupturing his achilles tendon.
Five: MVP Kobe: 30 points on 10-15 Shooting (2008)
Bryant won five championships and two Finals MVP’s in his career. However, in spite of his dominance, he was only awarded one MVP trophy.
This 30 point clinic from Bryant’s lone MVP season (2007-08) features a nineteen-point first quarter. He dug deep into his bag with his patented fadeaway, rim-rattling ferocity, and the assassin-like swift methodology of his footwork.
These highlights are a must-watch for any true Kobe fan.
Four: Prime Kobe’s 41 Points in a Win (2005)
Prior to the 2004-05 season, the Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Eddy Grant. They signed a new coach in Rudy Tomjanovich after Phil Jackson entered retirement following their Finals loss the previous season. The three-peat dynasty was over and now Los Angeles was solely Kobe’s city.
The first year was difficult. Los Angeles missed the playoffs their first year after trading O’Neal and Tomjanovich was relieved of his duties. Next year, during the 2005-06 season, Bryant took matters into his own hands. With Jackson back on the sidelines, the eleventh-year pro torched the league to a tune of 35.4 points per game. Despite a weak supporting cast, the Lakers returned to the playoffs.
This 41 point performance is indicative of the burden Kobe undertook that year. In a starting lineup that featured Odom, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, and Brian Cook alongside Bryant, the Lakers were seemingly overmatched against a tremendous Washington trio including Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Butler. It seemed to be the case, but as Tomjanovich famously said:
“Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Chronicle.
The Lakers pulled out a nail-biter 97-91.
Three: Farewell Tour: 31 Points and a Standing Ovation (2015)
Going into the 2015-16 season, rumors swirled that it would be Kobe’s final year as a pro. Bryant confirmed these rumors in a moving Player’s Tribune poem entitled “Dear Basketball.” He would later adapt the piece into an animated short, which earned Bryant an Academy Award. Was there anything he could not do?
The poem was published on November 29, 2015. A week later, Bryant took the court in Washington, DC for his final game in the Nation’s Capital. As he affectionately referred to himself in later seasons, it was pure ‘vino.’ Bryant nailed a dagger in the fourth quarter on his way to 31 points and a standing ovation.
Two: Classic Duel vs. Arenas (2006)
Of the five entries on this list, this game is the only loss. It would normally be shameful to include a loss on any list dedicated to Bryant, but this is a rare exception.
I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who went head-to-head against Kobe better than Arenas. The funny thing is, the former Wizards guard revealed that his 37 points the following matchup was more difficult than the 60 points he scored previously in the overtime win.
“I [had] the baddest man on the planet gunning for me. He wants revenge for what I did!“Gilbert Arenas, per No Chill Podcast
Long story short, the Lakers won by 16 points in their second meeting against Washington. Meanwhile, Kobe led all scorers with 39 points.
One: Changing of the Guard: 55 Points in Kobe’s Final Matchup Against Jordan
Going into the number one selection from March 28, 2003, Michael Jordan apparently boasted to Kobe that he could wear his shoes, but “never fill them.”
It is fair to say the Lakers guard took that personally.
In a purple and gold pair of Air Jordan 8’s, Bryant lit up his childhood idol. He drained eight three-pointers in the first two quarters and went into halftime with 42 points. This stood as a franchise record, until his famed 81 point outburst three seasons later.
It appeared to be all in good fun between the two legends. During the third quarter, Bryant knocked into Jordan on a transition opportunity, and the 40-year-old attempted to take a charge. When the whistle blew, Bryant stood atop his fallen comrade and playfully shadowboxed right and left jabs into his chest. It was pretty cool.
This signaled an official sea change in the NBA. Jordan would hang up his shoes for good that offseason. That left Bryant as the heir apparent to his brand of legacy. One involving ruthless competitiveness, and Machiavellian leadership techniques the two believed was necessary to win at the highest ranks.
While Bryant was unable to match Jordan’s six rings, he came damn close. On the contrary to what Jordan said going into the game, Kobe stood as the only person who could truly fill that shoe.
Kobe and Jordan go at it in their final matchup. Kobe finishes with 55 and takes the torch from Michael. pic.twitter.com/W1TJlnfsXp— Hoop Fiends 🏀💉 (@hoopfiends) January 31, 2020