In celebration of Mamba Week, Stadium Goods is taking a look back at the career of the legendary Kobe Bryant.
Spanning three decades, Bryant’s remarkable journey through the NBA can be broken down into three different eras: his rookie season, peak of his powers prime, and twilight years. This week, we’ve reviewed the beginning and middle parts of Kobe’s storied career. Now it’s time to focus on the back end of Bryant’s time in the League, including his role as an elder statesman on up-and-coming Lakers squads in the 2010s. Lace up your Nike Kobe 10s and join us as we explore Kobe Bryant’s final years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
As much as Kobe seemed to defy Father Time heading into his age 32 and 33 NBA seasons, Lakers brass was beginning to assimilate younger players onto the Lakers’ roster following their back-to-back NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010—after experiments with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, that is. Aware of the fact that he couldn’t play forever, Kobe openly accepted a mentor-type role on the Lakers immediately after tearing his achilles early in the 2013-2014 season. But that doesn’t mean that Black Mamba took a backseat in the years before, and after the devastating injury. These are some of the lasting memories from Kobe Bryant’s final stretch of greatness with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Through the ages of 32 to 34, and in his 15th, 16th, and 17th NBA seasons, Kobe Bryant posted averages of 25.3, 27.9, and 27.3 points per game. Let that sink in for a moment. Competing against dudes five, seven and even ten years his junior, Bryant was still an absolute force for some very formidable Lakers teams competing for NBA titles. The age-old debate of LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant was still a hot topic in NBA circles in the beginning of the 2010s.
Achilles Heel Injury
Late in the 2012-2013 season, Bryant, still the focal point of another Lakers team with NBA Playoff aspirations, crumbled to the floor following a routine play against the Golden State Warriors. Kobe who had played the entire game up until that point, including when he hyperextended his knee in the third quarter, immediately knew something was wrong. He heard that infamous “popping” sound that has turned athlete’s dreams into nightmare realities. But that didn’t stop Kobe from getting off the floor and over to the foul stripe to sink two free throws before exiting the rest of the game. He spent the offseason rehabilitating his third-degree achilles tear. Miraculously, Bryant returned for a fleeting cameo at the tail end of the 2013-2014 season, but may have overcompensated for his healing foot by injuring his knee in just his sixth game back. The two injuries, both of which occurred when Bryant was 34 and 35 years-old, represent the only times in Kobe’s career that he spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list.
Kobe Bryant bowed out of the NBA on April 13, 2016 as only he could—by scoring 60 points on 50 shots in a frenzied crowd at Staples Center that hung on his every foray to the hoop and fadeaway on the baseline. Just as they always had. Following an ominous start to the game against the Utah Jazz in which Kobe missed his first five shots, he settled down after nailing a mid-range jumper near the end of the 1st quarter. And then the floodgates slowly opened. He would tally 7 points in the 2nd quarter, and add 15 more at the end of the 3rd quarter to give himself 37 points heading in the final 12 minutes of his NBA career. What happened next ultimately cast Bryant into the annals of basketball history. At the urging of his teammates, fans and, quite possibly some Jazz players in secrecy, Kobe began freewheeling, scoring 17 points in a row at one stretch. His 23 points in the 4th quarter were enough to pull the Lakers ahead of the Jazz 101-96. “It felt good to be able to do that one last time,” Bryant said of the feat afterwards. And it was just as great to witness it one last time, too.
In January 2020, the sports world and beyond mourned the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash with an outpouring of love and support. While we lost a resourceful educator with infinite wisdom on and off the court, Bryant will undoubtedly inspire future generations of basketball players for years to come. His legacy will continue to be honored by the NBA as part of its newly renamed Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award. His beloved signature shoe collection with Nike Basketball, which continued to grow following retirement in 2016, will continue with models new and retro, like his performance-oriented Protro series. Kobe Bryant left an indelible mark on everyone who witnessed him soar through the air, hit a clutch shot, and lead his team to victory.