I was never a huge fan of Kobe Bryant, and the ship sailed almost entirely after he became the reason why I had to explain to my young, Kobe-jersey-wearing cousin what the terms “sexual assault” and “adultery” meant.
Then in April 2005, when the Lakers were on their way to finishing well under .500 with Rudy T on the bench and the Caron Butler/Lamar Odom tandem serving as the replacements for Shaq, the team came to KeyArena for a game against the playoff-bound Sonics. This was my first time seeing Kobe play in-person, and while the rest of the Sonics fans (who booed Kobe every time he touched the ball) left the building that night cussing his name, I was calling my friends, gushing about the talent I’d just seen.
Kobe ended up with 42 points, but it wasn’t just the scoring that got me. Watching live, you could see just how well he knows the game, knows the angles, stuff that won’t always come across on TV. His playmaking ability alone — whether he was getting an assist himself or making the pass that set up someone else’s assist –would have led the Lakers to a win (Caron had 30-plus that night), but when Kobe started really scoring in the second half, it was just a slaughter. Right before halftime, when my other little cousin was itching to get an early start on the food lines, I was literally holding him in place to make him watch the Lakers’ last possession. With Ray Allen draped all over Kobe around midcourt, I knew he was going to score. A couple of dribbles and pump-fakes later, Kobe banked in a three from about 35 feet out with Ray still all over him. And no one was surprised he’d done it. While I still wouldn’t advise my cousins to use Kobe as a personal-life role model, I told them after that game that if they wanted to be great basketball players, #8 was the guy to watch.
I was in MSG when Jamal Crawford gave D-Wade and James Posey 52 points and the Garden crowd was standing up every time he got the ball in the second half. I was there when Dwight Howard posted a 20-20 line, and I saw Chris Paul take over a game in the fourth quarter, scoring and racking up assists at will. But that Kobe game in Seattle is still the best I’ve ever seen live.
What is the best individual performance you’ve ever seen in-person?