WASHINGTON — Kobe Bryant is about to play his final NBA game.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend and 20-year veteran has dominated the league for the better part of the past two decades, from when he first entered the league as a 17-year-old rookie in 1996 to when he dropped 35 points on the Houston Rockets this past Sunday. An 18-time All-Star, 5-time champion, 2-time Finals MVP and the league MVP in 2007-08, Bryant will finish his career as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, behind just Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He also owns the second highest scoring output for a game in NBA history, when he put up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, and that came just a month after he scored 62 points against the Dallas Mavericks in only three quarters of action — when he left the game, the Lakers had 95 points, Bryant had 62 and Dallas had 61.
And then there were his two most impressive scoring bursts: First, when he scored 40 or more points in nine consecutive games from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23, 2003, averaging 44.0 points per game in that stretch, and he scored 35, 42, 38 and 40 in the four preceding games; Second, when he scored 50 or more points in four consecutive games from March 16 to March 23, 2007 averaging 56.25 points per game in that time.
Though he’s one of the all-time great players, he also has a reputation for his unrelenting competitiveness and desire to win. It earned him plenty of enemies, many of which were former teammates, throughout his career, from his years-long feud with Shaquille O’Neal to his strange, enduring dispute with Smush Parker. For better or worse, just about everybody in the sports world has an opinion of the legendary player.
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer has had an enormous amount of success against the Wizards over the course of his career, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. In 32 career games against Washington — the franchise was still called the Bullets when Bryant entered the league — he averaged 25.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game on .435 shooting from the field and .401 shooting from the 3-point line.
From 2001 to 2012, Bryant played against the Wizards 23 times — he scored at least 20 points 20 times, 30 points 10 times and 40 points three times.
Here are some of his most memorable games against Washington.
Kobe vs Gilbert
Without a doubt, the most notable game in Kobe-Washington history. In an overtime game at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Bryant scored 45 points to go with eight rebounds and 10 assists, but he fell short against the Wizards thanks to 60 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from Los Angeles native Gilbert Arenas.
Kobe Drops 55 in 2003
Only 44 times since the 1963-64 season has a player scored at least 45 points against the Washington franchise — Bryant is responsible for two of those occurrences, with the second being the Kobe-Arenas showdown. The first, however, was a 55-point explosion in March of 2003, the fourth-most points ever scored against the franchise.
Bryant got his points on 15-for-29 shooting, including a ridiculous 9-for-13 from 3-point range and 16-for-18 from the free-throw line. It was the fewest field-goal attempts of any of the 50-point games. It also seemed Bryant could break Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point record in the game, considering he hit the 40-point mark with 4:46 left in the second quarter. It got to the point where Bryant simply fired up a long shot every time he touched the ball, and he kept hitting them.
Oh, and it was the last time Bryant and his idol, Michael Jordan, ever went head-to-head against each other. Jordan had 23 points on 20 shots in the game. He retired for the final time at the end of the season.
Kobe Puts Up 41-8-4 in Lakers Win
The third of Bryant’s three 40-point games against the Wizards — second, chronologically — almost seems boring when compared to some of his other explosions, but 41 points on 24 shots is nothing to scoff at. In the Dec. 16, 2005 game, he also added eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block while turning it over just one time, and his Lakers went on to win by a score of 97-91.
It’s also worth noting that the starters around Bryant were Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm and Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown played the fourth-most minutes among the Lakers — arguably the worst supporting cast Bryant ever played with. He went 14-for-24 from the field for 41 points in the game, while the rest of his teammates went a combined 20-for-48 for 56 points.
Kobe Puts Up Triple-Double at MCI Center
Bryant has three career triple-doubles against Washington, and two came in Lakers wins. The one that came in a loss, however, was perhaps the most impressive individual performance. On Dec. 17, 2004, Bryant shot just 9-for-22 and missed seven free throws, but he still put up 36 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists, two steals and a block while playing a game-high 50 minutes. His Lakers fell to the Wizards in overtime thanks to 92 combined points from Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison, but Bryant was nothing short of spectacular. The second-leading scorer on the Lakers was Chucky Atkins, who scored 23 points on 17 shots.
Kobe’s Last Game in D.C.
Just a few days after Bryant announced his retirement plans, he came to Washington for the final time; he was 37 years old, but he played like he was 27. In his 20th season, Bryant scored 31 points on 10-for-24 shooting, but he absolutely took over in the final few minutes like he did so many times earlier in his career.
Not surprisingly, the crowd was incredibly pro-Kobe, and after his late-game heroics led the Lakers to a surprise win, CSN Mid-Atlantic play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz was, as well.
Love him or hate him — and there are plenty who do both — you have to respect all that he’s accomplished. One of the all-time greats steps away from the game Wednesday, and the game will be different because of it.