After a dreadful season in which he was faced to confront his own basketball mortality, Kobe Bryant’s final game was the most Kobe Bryantest game possible. He scored 60 points! On 50 shots! In the locker room after the game, the Lakers popped champagne! This after a season in which they finished 17 – 65, the second-worst record in the league. That’s nutty.
Anyway, all week, people have been sharing their favorite memories and anecdotes, from winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest to the lob to Shaq in the 2000 Western Conference Finals to the 81-point game, but my favorite memory of Kobe Bryant has been largely overlooked, probably because it didn’t take place in America. But it was where he truly asserted himself above the other best players in the world.
As the 2008 Olympics were approaching, a cadre of young superstars and future Hall of Famers signed up to play for the U.S. National Team. Dubbed “The Redeem Team,” they were recruited to return America to glory after the disastrous 2004 showing. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and the rest were as good as advertised, blitzing through the qualifiers before dispatching Australia and then Argentina, the team that knocked them out in ’04.
The gold medal game was a different story.
Waiting for them was Spain, boasting its own strong collection of talent, including Pau and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, and Juan Carlos Navarro. And they came to play. In a tight game that was back-and-forth, the pressure of the moment seemed to get to many of the U.S.’s young guns as they froze up and began playing tight.
That’s when Kobe stepped up.
He scored 13 points and dished two assists in the fourth quarter, but numbers don’t tell the entire story. As most of his teammates forgot how to play and began engaging in a worldwide televised version of hot potato, Kobe took control. He also played lock down defense, harassing the Spanish backcourt and making them work on every single possession.
The U.S. eventually pulled away and won 118 – 107 and his teammates hoisted him on their shoulders. At that moment, with the country’s best players on his team and the rest of the world’s best players on the other side, Kobe proved he was the best. Not bad for a guy that fell to the 13th pick.
Here’s what I wrote this week:
- Guru: The Overlooked Great [The Musical Outcast]
“I challenged him to get 50 and the motherfucker got 60.”
– Shaquille O’Neal
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.