This is the sixteenth in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All-Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Finishing with number 1 – Kobe Bryant. For this special article, we’ll take an in-depth look at his greatest game wearing number 8, with Part 2 to follow as we will look at his time wearing number 24.
Playing his whole 20 season career in the Purple and Gold, lifetime Laker fan Bryant made his way to LA after being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. Leading the Lakers in several categories, Bryant is first in games (1,346), minutes (48,637), made field goals (11.719), made 3 pointers (1,827), made free throws (8,378), steals (1,944) and points (33,643). He is also second in assists (6,306) and third in rebounds (7,047).
In his two decades with the franchise, Bryant featured in many different iterations of the Lakers. Beginning as Number 8 with the threepeat team of the early 2000s, seeing Bryant grow into an offensive force to pair with a peak Shaquille O’Neal, resulting in 3 championships between 2000-2002. Unfortunately failing to win a 4th straight title in 2004 as Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined the Purple and Gold. This was the fortune of a surprise loss suffered to the Detriot Piston in the NBA Finals.
Following the departure of O’Neal in ’04, the team would then go into the franchise player years as LAs front office desperately tried to put effective pieces around a peak Kobe Bryant, failing miserably. Mamba’s last 2 seasons wearing number 8 would be 2 of his best individually, averaging 27.6 PPG in ’04-’05 before besting that and scoring 35.4 PPG in ’05-’06, winning himself his first scoring title.
2005-’06 would be Kobe’s final season donning number 8, opting to switch to his first High School number, 24. Bryant selected number 8 as a nod to his childhood in Italy, wearing the number as a young child as he played with his youth basketball team. To go along with this, Bryant attended an Adidas youth training camp before entering the league, he was randomly selected to wear number 143, 1+4+3=8. A number Bryant selected by chance now holds such a stark significants in the evolution and story of The Black Mamba.
Bryant had some great moments wearing the number 8 on his back. One would be the 28 points he scored against the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals. He went from missing most of Game 2 and all of Game 3 with a sprained ankle to playing 47 of a possible 53 minutes and leading the Lakers to a 120-118 overtime victory. Another would be the alley-oop he threw to Shaquille O’Neal in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals. Yet another would be the 62 points he scored in 3 quarters against the Dallas Mavericks on the 20th of December 2005. Going 18/31 from the field and shooting 22/25 as he scored 62 of the Lakers 112 points.
Despite all this, for Kobe’s number 8 review we have selected the 81 points he scored against the Toronto Raptors in the 2005-06 season.
Number 8’s 81
It’s the 22nd of January 2006, the Los Angeles Lakers are playing the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Center. The team were back in LA following an unsuccessful road trip, first, an overtime loss in Sacramento, 118-109 before losing 106-93 in Phoenix. Leaving them with a record of 21-19 going into the game against the team from north of the border.
Bryant was tearing a hole in defensive schemes throughout the league, averaging 34.8 PPG throughout the first 40 games. Leading the league in scoring with the only player anywhere close being Allen Iverson (33.4 PPG). As for scoring for the rest of the team, it was a real struggle, the next highest was Lamar Odom with 14.6 PPG.
As for the game, Bryant would get his first 4 points early on. First driving the lane from the left-wing, beating Morris Peterson off the dribble and finishing with the reverse layup. He would then hit a difficult 20-foot fadeaway jumper on the very next possession. Coming around from the right elbow to the top of the key, collecting the ball from Kwame Brown. He then fakes left before spinning 180 degrees to the right and hitting over the top of Peterson. LA is up 7-6.
Bryant would then miss his next couple opportunities as the Raptors go on a run, going up 21-11 before Phil Jackson calls timeout, 5:18 left in the quarter. Bryant would get his next score as the teams come back, managing to wriggle free using a pick from Chris Mihm. Confusion on the switch led to Bryant getting an open long 2 point jumper from the top of the key, a charity shot for prime Kobe. He now has 6.
Bryant’s next bucket would come as he collects the rebound following Chris Bosh missing the mid-range jumper. He runs the ball up the court, using Browns screen to get the switch. Now guarded by Jalen Rose, Bryant drives to the right of the paint. He fakes a 360 spin to the left before fading away to the right and shooting. The ball banks off the glass and it drops in, 23-17 with 3:47 left, Bryant has 8.
Bryant would next score as he attacks the rim once again. Collecting the ball in the right high post. He turns to face Peterson before driving off his right foot, jump stopping past him and finishing inside. Bryant would then go to the charity shot twice before the end of the quarter, connecting on all 4 shots and putting his points total up to 14 to finish the 1st, Toronto lead 36-29.
Kobe would start the 2nd quarter on the bench, sitting out 6 minutes before getting in the game once again, the score is 46-32 in the Raptors favour. Bryants first bucket would come almost straight away, hitting the contested corner 3 to secure himself 17 of the Lakers 35 points.
Over the next couple possession, both teams struggled to score. Bryant misses 3 jump shots along the way as he goes full tunnel vision in terms of scoring. His next successful trip up the floor would come at the rim. Devean George has the ball on the left-wing as Kobe stands at the top of the 3 point line. Mihm comes to the top of the key as George darts the ball into him, meanwhile, Bryant dives around the back of Mihm. Mihm bounces the ball to his left as he stands with his back to the rim and sets a screen on Bryants man, Eric Williams. Bryant catches the bounce pass and continues his trajectory towards the rim, leaping up and finishing hard over the top of Matt Bonner. Cutting the Raptors lead to 13, 52-39.
Bryant now has 19 as the clock ticks down past 3 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, even with little time left in the half the Black Mamba was far from finished with his attacking play. He would score again as LA run their offence once again. Bryant catches the ball at the top of the 3 point line, takes one dribble to his right as he moves inside the line and shoots, releasing the ball as quick as he collected it to shoot, the off leg flaring out in the famous way fans will recognise, it swishes through. He now has 21 points.
Bryant would continue his flourish of scoring throughout the final minute. He would be fouled as he attacks the bucket on the fastbreak. Going to the line to shoot 2, he hits the first. The second bounces in and out as the rebound is smacked back out towards Bryant, who secures it. He bounces once and gathers to prevent turning it over. With nowhere to go, he takes a step into the paint and puts the ball up and in. Scoring again on his next possession, Bryant brings the ball up the floor and calls for the screen. Mihm comes out and delivers it. Bryant sprints around and euro steps his way past Bosh in the paint and finishes with a right-handed lay-up.
That would see the end of the half, as Bryant finishes with 26 points (going 10/18 from the field) with the rest of the Lakers team scoring 23 points combined. The Raptors have dominated offensively, scoring 63 points to compare to the Lakers 49 points.
Bryant would continue his tunnel vision approach as he missed his first 2 jumpers of the 3rd, scoring on his 3rd attempt. He picks up the ball on the right-wing as the Lakers run in early offence. Bryant takes a hard dribble with his right before gathering the ball and taking 3 long strides towards the right side of the cylinder, finishing with his right hand. Only a couple possessions would go by before Bryant scores again. Picking the ball up at the high left corner, he fakes the quick shot before driving baseline, wrong-footing his man, Bosh. Bryant takes 2 dribbles with his left hand before rising for the baseline jumper, connecting over the top of Bosh and Bonner. Kobe now has 30 as the Lakers are down 16, Toronto leads 69-53.
Bryant’s next few buckets come in quick succession as he begins to find his range with his jump shot. The first of which coming as Bryant picks up the ball at the top of the 3 point line. He takes a moment as he sizes up how he is going to beat Rose. Decision made, Bryant takes a quick hesitation step inside the 3 point line before rising up and lacing the net from 21 feet. Beginning to catch fire, Bryant would then pull up contested from the left-wing on the fastbreak, hitting only his second 3 of the night. His third would come quickly after as he shoots a catch and shoot 3 from the top, swishing it once again. Bryant now has 38 points with 7:39 left in the quarter, the Raptors remain in the lead 73-61.
A couple of minutes would go by before Bryant had yet another scoring flourish, the first of which coming from beyond the arc once again. Coming up in early offence Kobe receives the ball and strolls his way to the left-wing. Jalen Rose anticipates the drive and drops back as Bryant takes a little stutter step before pulling up without warning and drops the shot with 100% accuracy, nothing but net. The next possession down Bryant hits yet another jump shot, from inside the arc this time. Collecting the ball on the right-wing, Peterson has his hand on Bryant’s hip as the Raptors are desperate to slow him down. Bryant takes 2 dribbles to the baseline before stopping and faking twice, Peterson is all over him. Undistracted Kobe puts up a shot from 18 feet, dropping it through like a penny in a well and earning a shot at the line for his troubles. Stepping to the charity strike, Bryant has now hit 10 straight field goals as he finishes the traditional 3 point play. He now has 44 of LAs 66 as the deficit has been cut to 9, 77-66.
About a minute of game time would go by before Bryant scored again. Smush Parker delivers a bounce pass to number 8 as he makes his way to the right-wing. Bryant jab steps to the right before firing away, catching Joey Graham off guard. The ball drops through once again as the crowd begin to get involved, the Lakers were on there way back, now only down by 5, 78-73. Bryant has 47.
The clock would tick down below 3 minutes before Bryant scored again, attacking the rim this time. Coming to the left-wing in the early offence once again, this time keeping his dribble alive and attacking Graham as he heads towards the baseline. Unable to recover, Graham lets him go and Bryant finishes with the reverse at the rim, he now has 49. Game score now sits at 85-81 with 2:30 left in the 3rd.
The Lakers had well and truly started a run as other players began to score, the teams had drawn level by the 1:30 mark, 85-85. Bryant would then score emphatically to give LA their first lead since 2-0. Mike James has the ball on the perimeter as the Raptors are on offence. He tries to get it to Jose Calderon at the right-wing, but the ball is intercepted by non-other than Kobe Bryant. Running the loose ball down, Bryant sees off the challenge as Calderon attempts to regain possession. He gets to the Raptors 3 point line as he secures the basketball, all alone he gathers the ball and marches into the paint. Slamming the ball down hard with two hands and putting a dent on the rim as the arena rises to its feet. Everything Kobe had done tonight had looked effortless, a level above the competition. Stu Lantz remarks “Well that’s 51 for number 8” as LA take an 87-85 lead.
Bryant will get one more bucket before the start of the 4th as Torontos defence fail to track the Lakers leading scorer once again. Bryant receives the ball from George as the Lakers inbound in the halfcourt. Bryant gives the ball back to the inbounder at the left-wing as Mihm sets a pick for Bryant. George finds Odom in the left corner as Bryant’s man gets caught on the screen, leaving him open. Odom quickly delivers the rock inside as Bryant goes up and dunks it home. A perfectly executed inbounds play sees LA take a 6 point lead, 91-85. A score that would stand as the 3rd ends.
As a team, the Lakers had 42 points in the 3rd quarter, shooting 14/21. On his own Bryant had 27 of those points on 11/15 from the field, a remarkable achievement for just 12 minutes of playing time.
Number 8’s first 2 points of the 4th would come at the line. This was closely followed by a 13-foot jump shot. The ball comes to Bryant as he stands in the right high post. He pivots to face Peterson as he plans his attack. Jab stepping to the right twice before taking one dribble in the same direction. Bryant pulls up and swishes it home before Peterson can react. He is now 5 away from his then career-high(62) with 57 as he extends the Lakers young lead to 7, 95-88.
Another mid-range jumper would follow soon after as Bryant has the ball at the top of the 3 point line, Guarded by Rose. Brown comes to set Kobe a screen, bringing the double. Bryant sees this before it develops and splits the Raptors defence as he heads towards the paint. He pulls up at the free throw line as Bosh mistakenly puts a hand on his back, fouling the shooter. Bryant hits the shot as he heads to the line for a chance at converting yet another 3 point play, unfortunately missing the charity shot. He now has 59 as the Purple and Gold lead 97-88.
A quiet couple of minutes would then follow for the Lakers on offence as the Raptors cut the lead back to 4, 97-93. This would change as the Raptors had finally decided to start throwing an extra body at Bryant on drives. Something he took advantage of to find an open Odom for 3. He connects as the Lakers inch beyond a century. The very next trip down the floor Bryant would score once again. He receives the ball in the right corner in early offence. Panic comes over Bonner as he tries to guard Mamba, jumping out to guard the catch and shoot. Bryant sees this and immediately drives baseline and into the paint. With Bonner beaten, Bryant goes around the stagnant Bosh before finishing the open shot from close range. He now has 61 Ponts as the Lakers go up 102-93, 6:30 left.
Bryant will then go to the line as he is fouled on a 3 point attempt. Rose holding onto Kobe out of fear, Bryant smartly tries to put the shot up and the officials blow the whistle. As Bryant steps to the line commentary remarks “Ladies and Gentlemen you are about to see a career-high for Kobe Bryant”. Swishing the first one he ties his career-high, 62 for number 8. The second rattles around the rim before dropping through, giving Bryant a new career-high, 63. The third and final free throw would see the Staples Center rise to its feet as they celebrate their hero. Bryant swishes it home, he now has 64 with 6 minutes left, Lakers lead 105-94.
It would only take Kobe half a minute to score again. Receiving the ball on the right-wing, with Rose stuck to his right hip like glue. Bryant takes a dribble with his left to give himself some breathing room. He then takes another dribble and a step to his left before firing from 26 feet with a hand in his face. Holding the swan neck as it hits the bottom of the net. He now has 67 points, overtaking Wilt Chamberlain(66) to become 2nd for most points in a single game in Laker history. Elgin Baylor(71) sits precariously in 1st with 5:30 left in the game.
The very next possession Bryant closes the gap even further. He gets the ball at the right-wing once again. Brown comes and sets the screen, allowing Bryant to take a single dribble to his left and shake his man once again. Pulling up from almost the exact same spot as his last make, anticipation fills the crowd as the ball floats through the air. It swishes home as the building explodes once again. Bryant now has 70 points, surpassing the career-high of his childhood idol Michael Jordan(69) and putting him 1 point behind Baylor. Lakers lead 111-96 with 4:40 left.
As LA bring the ball up the floor they are desperate to feed Kobe. He flashes open at the left-wing as Odom delivers it. Peterson is tight to Bryant, not allowing another 3. Bryant drives baseline again, taking 2 dribbles into the mid-range before pump faking. Covered by Peterson, Bryant is in full control as he jumps and fades. Creating enough space to get the shot off. It drops as the building erupts with energy once more. Commentary exclaims “Kobes got the Laker record!”
Now with 72 points and the game in the bag, with 4 minutes left Bryant was not finished. Odom gives him the ball at the left-wing again. This time Bryant goes right, driving into the paint. Peterson is beat as Bonner is the last line of defence. Kobe puts his left shoulder into the chest of Bonner, using it as a bounce pad. Bryant fades back and drops in the floater from 5 feet. He now has 74 as he continues to build the legend.
Bryant would then begin a parade to the line, being fouled once again by Bosh on the drive. He swishes the first to give himself 75. Replicating the shot perfectly, Bryant swishes the second and gives himself 76 points with 2:30 left in the game. Now only 2 points away from 2nd all-time in single-game scoring, held by Chamberlain.
The parade continues as Bryant is fouled from 3 point land. Commentary reminds us that “he’s gonna go to the line and shoot 3 free throws to get to 79. Which would be the second greatest performance in NBA history.” On the first, it bounces it off the back iron and in, 77. The next will tie Chamberlain’s record. Bouncing around the rim the second drops, 78. The third hit the back iron again before dropping through, 79. “Ladies and Gentlemen you have witnessed the second greatest scoring performance in NBA history! 79 points by Kobe Bryant tonight against the Toronto Raptors.”
Bryant would go to the line one final time on the 22nd of January 2006, to shoot 2 free throws with 43 seconds left in the game. A chance for 81! As cool as he shoots a free throw at shootaround, Bryant swishes the first home to total 80 points! The routine stays the same, high fives with the team, then back on the line. Bryant receives the ball, spins it to the floor and catches it again, followed by 2 bounces. His eyes rise up and lock onto the rim as he takes a deep breath. His arms rise for the shooting motion and he lets it go with the flick of his right wrist. It swishes home as the first did. “An 81 point game, 55 in the second half!”.
With 4.2 seconds left in the game, Pape Sow throws the ball away on a bad pass. Allowing Bryant to leave the game to the standing ovation he so truly deserves. Finishing the game with 81 points on 28/46 from the field, 7/13 from 3 point land and 18/20 from the free throw line. The greatest scoring performance ever by a Los Angeles Laker and the second greatest scoring performance in NBA history! Truly one of his greatest games wearing number 8!
After leaving High School at 18 and originally being drafted with the number 13 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, the rights to Bryant were immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. In his 20 years wearing the Purple and Gold Bryant earned an All-Rookie Team selection, 2 NBA scoring titles, 18 NBA All-Star Selections, 4 NBA All-Star MVPs, 3 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, 9 NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, 2 All-NBA Third Team selections, 2 All-NBA Second Team selections, 11 All-NBA First Team selections, an NBA MVP, 5 NBA Championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, and later an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Following Bryant’s death, on 26th of January 2020, there was an outpouring of love not only in Los Angeles but across the world. Fans of the game worldwide expressed their condolences and shared stories of their own special moments as they remembered Kobe. A true legend that did not only transcend basketball but life itself as young fans today still learn of the legend of Kobe Bean Bryant.
In 2017 the franchise made it so no other Laker would wear number 8 or number 24 again. Hanging his jerseys in the rafters of the Staples Center. Becoming the 10th player to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and the only player to have two numbers retired by the same organisation. All these achievements and the many memories he has left us with more than cement his place at the top of this list of true Laker greats!
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