On the 10-year anniversary of 81, we celebrate Kobe
From his speech pattern to his fallaway jumper to his flailing tongue, Kobe Bryant might have seemed like a Michael Jordan clone to some — perhaps even to himself. But the Los Angeles Lakers superstar has proven time and again over 20 NBA seasons that he is as rare a talent as has ever graced the game of basketball. Upon his retirement at the end of this season, Bryant will leave behind a legacy of championships and performances the likes of which might never be witnessed again. Here are five Bryant milestones that will stand the test of time.
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5. 20: The best way to measure loyalty and longevity
Players all say they want to spend their entire career with one team, but few do. Kevin Garnett is in his 21st season, but he had to leave Minnesota to come back. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons, but he started in Milwaukee before hitting L.A. Robert Parish and Kevin Willis each played 21 seasons, but they jumped from team to team at different points in their careers. Kobe, though, is in his 20th NBA season, each spent with the Lakers. Perhaps he'll soon have peers, if Tim Duncan wants to play one more season at age 40 or if Dirk has two years left in him in Dallas. After that? There are no real contenders to Bryant's legacy of loyalty (minus, of course, a few rumored trade demands).
4. 81: Enough said
This is, in fact, why we are here today, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kobe's remarkable 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors. It remains second to only Wilt Chamberlain's 100 in 1962. And it's not just the 81 points that's so impressive. Kobe has five games of 60 points or more in his career, a feat that hasn't been matched even once since Carmelo Anthony did it two years ago. The last 70-point scorer other than Kobe was David Robinson — in 1994. Will we ever see 80 again? Kevin Durant is certainly a candidate, but it might be difficult as he shares the floor with Russell Westbrook. LeBron James? His knack for passing gets in the way. Carmelo? Stephen Curry? James Harden? It seems improbable, even for the reigning MVP.
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3. 5: It's not 6, but it's still a lot of rings
Kobe desperately wanted to match — if not surpass — Michael Jordan's six championships. But as we watched Bryant strive for greatness, we were privy to how difficult a task that truly is. After Tim Duncan, who has five, the next potential rival to Jordan's six rings, LeBron James, has two championships at age 31. Kevin Durant is still searching for his first. The Warriors look primed to roll off consecutive titles, and maybe they can succeed where Bryant fell short. We're not counting on it, though. If someone as determined as Kobe can't get to six, it might not be possible in today's NBA. Unless, of course, you call San Antonio home.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
2. 33,069: No. 3 all-time, but in excellent company
Kobe's career regular-season scoring total entering Friday's game against the Spurs ranks third all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Kobe, the youngest player to reach 30,000 points, won't catch the Mailman's 36,928, and we'll never know if he could have reached that mark were it not for a series of unfortunate injuries starting at the end of the 2012-13 season, when he blew out his Achillies. Then there was the knee injury, then the shoulder. But rewind a bit: In 2012-13, Kobe scored 2,133 points in 78 games. Had he managed even just 1,500 in each of the next two seasons, he would have began 2015-16 only 2,311 points behind Malone. It would have made his swan song even more compelling. Oh, what might have been.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNoah Graham
1. 18 years, 158 days
That's how old Kobe Bryant was when he became the youngest player to start a game in NBA history on Jan. 28, 1997 against the Dallas Mavericks at Reunion Arena. The rookie Bryant finished with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 32 minutes, and the Lakers won 102-83. Kobe started just six games that season and just one more in 1997-98 before becoming a fixture in the Lakers' starting lineup for more than the next decade-and-a-half. He remains the youngest player to start a game, and as long as the NBA continues to have an age minimum, his record is safe.