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Kobe Bryant turned 34 years old in August. He might be getting old, but more importantly, we’re feeling old. Over 15 years ago Kobe held that infamous press conference, showing up with the black shades on his bald dome, announcing he was “taking my talents” to the NBA. Just a few months ago, we were ready to start writing his tombstone. The Lakers weren’t championship material, Kobe could no longer carry them to a title, and the rest of the team was old and brittle. Now? Bryant really has a chance to go down as one of the three or four greatest players ever.
He already has five titles, already has amassed over 30,000 career points, has already made 14 All-Star teams, and now he has Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. While he’s no longer dropping 60-plus whenever it strikes his fancy, Bryant is still in a good spot.
Looking back, here are the 10 best games of his NBA career so far.
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10. KOBE VS. ORLANDO
June 4, 2009 at Staples Center
Lakers Win 100-75
Stats: 38 minutes, 16-for-34 shooting, 40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists
Was this Kobe’s best game ever in the Finals? You can definitely make the case. He’s never scored more. Really, his best game might’ve come in the 2008 Finals during Game 3. Bryant had 36 points and physically dominated Boston for most of the way. But he missed seven of 18 free throws, and the Lakers ended up losing the series even though they won the game.
On this night against Orlando, he set the tone from the start. The Lakers had to get up early, and they followed KB’s lead. The shots he was hitting were unbelievable: double-pump pull-ups, fallaways where he couldn’t even see the hoop. The Magic never really had a shot, and Kobe’s claim as the best player in the game never felt stronger. This was the start of a MVP-winning series.
In the third quarter, he dropped the hammer, and pushed the Lakers out in front by 20. Plus, he busted out the weird playoff sneer he had going for a while. Always memorable.