Kobe Bryant played the final game of his NBA career on Wednesday night, dropping 60 points on 50 shots to go out in quintessentially Kobe style.
In honour of the Black Mamba’s retirement, many players around the league have shared their favourite memories of Bryant.
One such player was LeBron James, who spoke at length about Bryant in December, citing numerous stats and individual moments from the athlete’s illustrious career.
Either James or Bryant has appeared in every NBA Finals since 2007. James even jokingly apologised for not holding up his end of the bargain in 2009, when the Cleveland Cavaliers won a franchise-high 66 games but failed to reach the Finals, where they would have met Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
But of the many anecdotes James shared about Bryant, one in particular best illustrates Bryant’s competitive spirit.
At the 2008 Olympics, Team USA played rival Spain in a preliminary-group game, and just a few possessions into the game, Bryant ran straight through his Lakers teammate Pau Gasol on a pick, sending the 7-foot Spaniard to the ground and earning Bryant a flagrant.
Here’s how James remembered it, according to Cleveland.com:
The first play of the game he ran through the chest of Pau Gasol and got a flagrant. And Pau Gasol was his teammate with the Lakers. I was like, “Yeah, this guy is on another level.”
I loved it. I mean, [Gasol] wasn’t my teammate, but I was like, you guys can find that clip and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It was one of the first plays of the game. I was like, “This guy’s all about winning and whoever he’s playing for or who he’s playing with at that point in time.” He really forgot Pau was his teammate. Like he really forgot that he was about to see him in like three weeks in L.A. I swear. It was crazy.
Here’s the play:
James also recalled another play from the same Olympics, also against Spain but in the gold-medal game. The teams were trading baskets down the stretch when Bryant completely took over. He scored 20 points in total, but it was a key four-point play that effectively sealed the gold for the US.
Here’s James on the game:
I would say our Gold Medal game in ’08 against Spain was probably one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played with him … That was a really tough game for our team. It was our Redeem Team and late in the game it was a very close game. Rudy Fernandez had just come down and made a really big bucket. They went zone on us and we needed to make a big bucket. We swung it around the horn, Kobe caught it on the left wing and shot a three with no thought about it. Got fouled, four-point play and we put the game away from that point on. That was pretty cool.
Here’s footage from that play:
One more look:
Doug Collins summed it up perfectly on the television broadcast immediately after he hit the shot: “Is there anybody in the NBA who loves these moments more than Kobe Bryant?”