This is the seventeenth 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 24, following on from Part 1 where we looked at his time wearing number 8.
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).
Bryant would change his number from 8 to 24 for the start of the 2006-’07 season, selecting 24 by virtue of it being the first number he wore in High School. With this, he would continue his elite form as he led the league in points for the second year in a row, 31.6 PPG. Despite this the Lakers struggled to be competitive during Number 24’s first season, winning 42 games and getting beaten 4-1 by the Phoenix Suns in the First Round of the 2007 Playoffs.
This bad form would last until early 2008 as the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, an All-Star calibre Center to pair with their flamethrower of a Shooting Guard (Bryant had just come off of 2 straight scoring titles, he would also go on to win the 2007-08 MVP). The arrow would begin to point in the right direction for LA as they went to 3 straight finals and won 2 straight championships 2009 and 2010.
The following season would see the Lakers capitulate. Attempting to run it back one more time (getting swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the Semifinals) before the changes began to flow. Phil Jackson would retire as Mitch Kupchak attempted to trade his ageing core for a young Chris Paul, a trade that was vetoed by NBA Commissioner David Stern for what he called “basketball reasons”. This would lead to hurt feelings as the bridge between the front office and Lamar Odom (he was involved in the cancelled transaction) was burned, forcing Kupchak to give up the raining 6th man of the year for a protected 1st round pick.
Capitulation would continue to take a downward spiral as the Lakers tried desperately to build a competitor around their ageing legend. Players like Ramon Sessions, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer would follow as Bryant battled injury and the team fell into the lottery. As the team’s record got worse and worse, Bryant decided to call it a day on his 20 season career at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Similarly, Bryant had some equally amazing moments wearing the number 24. One would be his first championship without O’Neal in 2009. Bryants Lakers would beat the Orlando Magic in 5 games as Kobe averaged 32.4 PPG, 7.4 APG and 5.6 RPG to win his first Finals MVP and earn himself his 4th championship. Of course, you can’t mention 2009 without 2010, where the Lakers faced their dreaded rivals, the Boston Celtics, in the Finals following defeat in 2008. Bryant made sure history would not repeat itself as he averaged 28.6 PPG, 3.9 APG and 8 RPG and won his 2nd consecutive Finals MVP. Not to mention delivering the Purple and Gold number 16. As number 8 saw the rise of a legend, number 24 witnessed the fall of one. A true example of this would take the form of Bryant rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon in the final minute of the 3rd to last game of the 2013 NBA season. Bryant would proceed to get up and make 2 free throws before walking off the court all on his own strength. Truly exhibiting Mamba Mentality.
But for his number 24 review, we have selected the final game of his NBA career in which he scored 60 points.
Number 24 Says Goodbye
It’s the 13th of April 2016, the Los Angeles Lakers are playing the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center. Going into the game the Lakers held a record of 16-65. Bryant had announced his plan to retire back in November following a 2-14 start for the Purple and Gold. This would begin an epic farewell tour for Bryant as the Lakers carried out their regular season schedule, suddenly, every game was an event.
Up until his final game, Bryant had managed to play 65 of a possible 81 game, averaging 16.9 PPG. A vast contrast to the player that won 2 scoring titles and an MVP in 3 consecutive seasons, averaging 31.7 PPG between 2005-2008. The fans had gotten used to the older statesmen Bryant had now become and didn’t let expectations get too high for his finally. The closest to pressure was a conversation on national TV between Bryant and his old teammate Shaquille O’Neal, where O’Neal jokingly requested that Bryant score 50 in his final game. Bryant first replyed with laughter before delivering a very definite “No”.
Magic Johnson would speak before the game, calling Kobe “The greatest to wear the Purple and Gold”. Also reminding fans that Kobe “has scored 25 times over 50 points. He’s scored over 60 points 5 times. And then we all knew where we were when he scored 81 points!”. He would then introduce a video of Bryant’s former teammates and opponents saying there own thank you’s.
Bryant’s final 48 minutes of NBA basketball would then begin. He would struggle to score to begin with, as number 24 went 0/5 from the field early as his teammate fed him the rock on every possession. His first bucket would come following an excellent defensive play. Blocking Trevor Booker from behind as he went up for a seemingly uncontested lay-up. Bryant set off in the opposite direction. Coming up the left side of the court in possession of the basketball, Bryant would be met by Gordon Hayward just inside the 3 point line. Bryant gives a little head fake as he crosses right to left, jump stopping just left of the paint. A pump fake would follow before finishing the floater under heavy contest inside. Mamba was on the board, the score is tied 6-6 with 5 minutes left in the 1st.
Things would then start to flow a little easier for Bryant, as he gets his second make quickly after. He receives the ball from D’Angelo Russell on the left-wing as Hayward is immediately on his right hip. Roy Hibbert comes over to set the screen for Bryant, allowing him to lose Hayward. He would then perform a little hesitation dribble with his left hand before crossing to his right and pulling up from 15 feet. Hitting back iron before dropping through, Bryant now has 4 points.
Bryant hot streak would continue with an assault on the rim. He picks the ball up on the right-wing, now guarded by Rodney Hood. Bryant would take a couple half jab steps before driving baseline, leaving Hood behind. Taking 2 dribbles towards the paint before gathering, Bryant has his eyes set on the rim. Using his body, he prevents Jeff Withey from getting a hand on the ball as Kobe finishes with the reverse. Withey fouls him on the follow-through, giving Bryant the and-1 opportunity. Finishing the charity shot with ease, Bryant now has 7 points as LA lead 11-7.
Bryant then has a couple catch and shoot buckets. The first of which comes as the shot clock ticks down. Receiving the ball in the right corner as the clock hits 6 seconds, Bryant puts it up with Hood’s hand obscuring his view of the rim. This, however, makes no difference as the ball laces the net, Bryant’s foot was just on the 3 point line. The next would come immediately after as Bryant gets up the floor in early offence. Catching a cross-court pass from Marcelo Huertas, Bryant stands on the right-wing and fires away from 3 point land. Contention from Joe Ingles was not enough to put Vino off as he swishes the 3. Now with 12 points, Bryant has hit 5 straight. “KOBE!” chants ring out throughout the Staples Center as LA lead 16-14.
Bryant would finish the 1st with 15 points as his final play of the quarter results in a shooting foul from beyond the 3 point line, Hood getting a little two physical as he tries to put out Bryant’s hot streak. He steps to the line to shoot 3, connecting on each. The quarter ends 21-19 in the Jazz’s favour as Bryant drives any offensive success the Lakers had.
Bryant would start the 2nd quarter on the bench, checking in at the 6-minute mark as the Jazz lead 33-29. His first field goal of the 2nd would come about a minute later. Kobe picks up the ball at the high right short corner, Hayward attached to his hip. Bryant pivots a full 360 in two quick steps before faking left and driving baseline. Wrong footing Hayward, Bryant gets all the way to the rim and finishes the two-handed layup. He now has 17 points.
Bryant would then get another point as he is fouled on a mid-range jumper, going 1/2 at the strike this time. He would then hit from 3 on the very next possession. Catching the ball at the left-wing, Trey Lyles is forced to race out and contest off the switch. Bryant fakes Lyles into the air before taking a single dribble and pulling up, dropping the 3 as he puts his points total beyond 20. Jazz lead 43-37.
The volume shooting would continue from Bryant as he misses his next few field goal attempts, getting his final point of the quarter at the line with about 30 seconds left. Fouled once again as Booker tries to halt the Mamba’s attack on the rim. Going 1/2 once again, Bryant finishes the half with 22 of the Lakers 42 points as Utah scores 57 on the leaky defence of the 2015/16 Lakers.
Number 24 would get his first bucket of the 2nd half after about a minute and a half of play. Picking the ball up on the left-wing, Bryant takes a dribble right before crossing and driving left. Beating Hood, Bryant dribbles past his number 8 that is emblazoned on the court as he drives to the rim. As he gets there he is met by the duo of Lyles and Withey. Jumping into the air, Bryant switches hands mid-flight to finish over the challenge. He now has 24 points.
This would spur Bryant on to attack the rim a couple more times. The first coming as he receives the ball at the left-wing once again. Bryant attacks off the right foot this time, forcing his way into the paint. He dribbles from left to right across the paint before turning 180 degrees and going back to the left side of the block. Hayward is staying with Vino as he struggles to get some space, finally gaining it as he bumps off of Hayward’s chest and fades, connecting with the short-range jumper from 8 feet. The second would come as he misses a 3 point jumper. Hibbert bats the rebound out towards the top of the 3 point line, where Bryant is stood. He collects the ball and rolls into the key, beating the flat-footed Shelvin Mack. He gathers the ball as he reaches the paint and puts in the open lay-up, looking for a second that he was going to go for the dunk. Hubie Brown remarks “They wanted a dunk though. They’re happy with the hoop, if he ever dunked it they would’ve fallen out of their seats”.
After scoring 6 points in 55 seconds, Bryant has 28 points in just 20 minutes of basketball as the Jazz lead has been cut to 9, 59-50. Bryant would have to wait a couple minutes before scoring again. He has the ball on the left wing with 8 seconds left on the shot clock. He has a live dribble and uses it to attack Hayward’s left foot, catching him off guard. Bryant has made it into the paint and is once again met with contention from all angles. He jumps and hangs in the air as he puts up the shot under heavy contest from Lyles. The ball bounces on the rim twice before dropping through. The very next trip down the floor would see Bryant score once again, this time with a classic Kobe move. Bryant isolates on the right-wing, guarded by Raul Neto. He fakes the 360 spin baseline once before going on the second. Neto stays right with him as Bryant jumps and fades, hitting the contested 12 footer and giving himself 32 points.
Bryant’s next shot would come from beyond the arc. He gets the ball in the right corner and Ingles has his right hand directly in Bryant’s face. Kobe takes a couple seconds while he decides on his plan of attack. He then jumps into the air and fades out of bounds, firing up the high difficulty contested shot. He hits with 100% accuracy as it splashes through the net. “35 on the farewell night for Kobe, putting on a show one last time!”
Bryant would get his final score of the 3rd with about a minute to go. Huertas delivers the ball to Bryant on the left-wing. Ingles knocks the ball free but Bryant regains possession. Ingles then shows him the outside lane as he expects the shot. Bryant takes the open lane and drives into the paint. Withey is the challenger this time as Bryant jump stops into the paint. Withey has his chest right up against Bryant as number 24 fakes and then puts up the difficult lay-up. The ball falls through as it bounces done off the glass.
The Jazz remain in the lead, 75-66, as the teams head into the 4th. Bryant finishes the 3rd with 37 points in 30 minutes, a challenge in itself, forgetting the fact Bryant is 37 years of age. Despite this, the tired Bryant’s best quarter of his ultimate goodbye was yet to be seen. As the broadcast throws to commercial commentary reminds viewers “Micheal scored 15 in his final game, Kobe’s trying to get to 50”.
The start of Bryant’s final quarter would be a slow one, forcing up 3 heavily contested shots as he tries to get himself going. Bryant finally finds his stroke as the Lakers run in early offence. Huertas has the ball as he reaches the top of the key. Looking around for an outlet pass, he finds the trailing Bryant at the left-wing. Bryant pulls from 25 feet and the ball hits the bottom of the net. “A 40 point game for the 122nd time, for the first time since November of 2014!”.
The very next possession up the floor, Bryant hits yet another 3. Picking the ball up at the top of the 3 point line, Bryant waits for a Tarik Black screen. Ingles gets caught on the screen as Bryant takes a dribble to the right, forcing Booker to switch out onto the perimeter. Bryant takes a quick hesitation dribble before firing away. The ball rattles through the hoop as the crowd rises to their feet. Bryant now has 43, he now has the most points scored by any NBA player in their final NBA game. The Jazz remain in the lead, 85-76.
A couple minutes would go by before the now exhausted Bryant scores once again. He brings the ball up the floor as Black rushes over to set another screen. Bryant uses it as he goes left, losing Hayward and met by Withey just inside the 3 point line. Bryant performs a little stutter step before crossing back to his right and pulling up in one fluid motion. The foul line jump shot drops through as Mamba ignores the 3 Jazz players hands in his vision, “45!”. The Lakers were now within striking distance of the Jazz for the first time since halfway through the 2nd quarter, 87-84 with 5:30 left.
About 2 minutes would go by before number 24 would score again, this time giving LA one last run, one final takeover. The beginning of this would come in the form of an assault on the cylinder. Bryant brings the ball up the left-wing and works his way into the high post. He spins baseline and gets inside underneath Hayward’s challenge. Now underneath the rim, Bryant fakes and sends Lyles into the air, leaving the open lay-up for the 20-year vet to finish. 47 points for Bryant.
As Vino carries the rock up the court on the next possession LA are now down by 10 following a Utah run, 2:30 left. Bryant’s next 2 points come at the line as he continues to find new ways to get to the rim after so long, getting fouled by Hayward. Kobe goes 2/2 as he ticks up to 49 points, now just 1 away from O’Neal’s request.
Utah comes up the floor and misses as Randle gets the rebound, immediately giving it to Bryant. He carries it up in early offence as his audience rises in anticipation. Coming up the right-wing he losses Mack and is now tracked by Booker. He jump stops into the paint, putting up a high arcing layup. The ball hits the glass and drops through. “Kobe Bryant, a 50 point game in his farewell!”. The broadcast cuts to his ecstatic wife and kids as the teams come back down the floor. 6 point game.
The Jazz bring the ball up and turn it over, travelling violation. Whilst waiting for the inbound, Bryant can be seen wincing in pain, he is going to leave everything out on this floor. Randle brings the hard screen, in response the Jazz try and double. Bryant sees this and splits the attempt, getting himself to the right elbow. He pulls up from mid-range as Hayward throws a hand in his line of sight. Despite this, it hits the bottom of the net. “53! Unbelievable stuff tonight!”. Its a 4 point game, Kobe Bryant was putting the Purple and Gold on his back one last time!
Hayward misses a 3 with 1:10 left, Larry Nance secures it. Bryant carries the ball to the left-wing as Randle sets a pick on Ingles. Bryant continues towards the left corner, now guarded by Lyles. Bryant stutters steps and gathers. He shoots the 25-foot fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face AND HITS! The city of Los Angeles implodes in celebration of their superman. 96-95 with a minute left in the game.
Jazz call timeout as Bryant sits down on the Laker bench, hunched over and breathing heavily, exhaustion is written all over his face and body. “Every last bit of him being left out here tonight. He’s scored the Lakers last 13. He has 56 points”.
Utah miss coming out off the timeout as Russell pulls down the rebound and gives it to Bryant. “The Lakers down 1, will Kobe give them one last gamer?”. Randle rushes out to set the hard pick on Hayward. Bryant takes a couple steps left, using the Randle screen. Bryant crosses and comes back towards the right side of the court as Randle resets the screen. Bryant peels around and is looking for the shot. “Bryant, on the move, with the jumper”. The ball floats through the air as The Black Mamba holds the swan neck.
“HE GOT IT! 58 POINTS! AND THE LAKERS LEAD!”
LA takes the lead for the first time since the 1st quarter, all thanks to the heroics of a Laker legend. The score is 97-96 with 31 seconds left as Quin Snyder calls for time. The broadcast throws to commercial, “He has been great, and on his final night, its one last glimpse, of greatness”.
“The most points scored in the NBA this season, Anthony Davis scored 59 for New Orleans in Detriot on a Sunday night in February. On the final night of his brilliant, Hall of Fame, 20-year career, Kobe Bryant’s 1 shy of that”. “Bryant has played the last 30 minutes without a break”.
The Jazz come out of the break and can’t get a make as Lyles attacks the bucket. There is a scramble for the rebound before the ball is secured by Jordan Clarkson. The shot clock is now turned off, Utah are forced to foul. They have a foul to give so LA will inbound. Bryant gets himself open as he pushes off of Hayward and catches the pass, he is immediately fouled with 14.8 seconds left.
“Here’s Bryant, 2 free throws for 60”. As he steps to the line he uses his jersey to wipe the sweat from his eyes. A nod to the official as he wipes the sweat from his fingertips on his jersey. The same age-old routine would follow. Holding the ball against his hip with his left hand he takes a deep breath. He then bounces the ball twice as he looks up at the rim. He would then hold for a second with another deep breath before raising his arms and releasing the ball, it drops through, 59. The routine continues as he steps forward to touch hands with Randle and Nance before looking back towards Russell and Clarkson. He turns back to the line and the method repeats itself almost exactly. And of course, the result is exactly the same. “60”.
Following this, the Lakers are now up 3 as Hayward runs the ball up the floor and tries to finish inside. He is unsuccessful as Randle catches the loose ball and gets it to Bryant. Number 24 launches the ball ahead to the breaking Clarkson, he catches the ball, takes a dribble and throws down an emphatic two-hand dunk as the Staples Center blasts into pure elation. LA lead 101-96 with 4.1 to go, Utah call timeout.
The camera cuts to a debilitated Bryant, patting the left side of his chest in appreciation of the moment. As he turns to walk to the bench he is met by the future of the league he leaves behind, first Nance, quickly followed by Russell, Clarkson and Randle as they all share in this moment of gratitude for Los Angeles’ worn soldier.
Bryant would continue to make his way to the bench as he shared one last moment on the floor of the Staples Center with his former partner Shaquille O’Neal. Sharing one last embrace, “Kobe and Shaq, together one more time, in a moment of Laker glory”.
Bryant would come back onto the floor following the timeout, but he had played his final moment of NBA basketball. Leaving the game before play started again, allowing him to get the laudation he so justly warranted. The crowd says goodbye to their hero one final time as he points to the heavens and thanks his Laker family. The name “KOBE!” rings out amongst the darkness of the building as we say our final farewell.
After the final buzzer Bryant would speak to his fans all around the world:
On an emotional night, Bryant played 42 minutes in his final game, scoring 60 points at 37 years of age. Securing himself the record of most points in a farewell game by any player. Truly one of his greatest games wearing number 24!
The Greatest Laker of All-Time
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!
Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.
Fanatics UK: http://tinyurl.com/y4vjv32b and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!
NBA Store Europe: http://tinyurl.com/y585vud9 and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!