EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Today is Kobe Bryant Day.
The Lakers have a first-round playoff game tonight against Portland (and lead the series, 2-1), but in honor of Bryant’s untimely passing in January, there will be very little present-day advice for the Lakers here, other than to hit their three-pointers and keep playing stellar defense.
Instead, on the day designated to remember Bryant’s life in Los Angeles and Orange County — his jersey numbers were 8 and 24, and today’s date is 8/24 — here is one person’s opinion of his top three games while I covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times from 2004-2016.
3) Lakers vs. Utah, April 13, 2016
Bryant’s last game in his 20-year career didn’t get off to a great start
The 37-year-old missed his first five shots in what was supposed to be a fond, final goodbye in a game between two teams that failed to make playoffs. About 25 of Bryant’s ex-teammates honored him with a memorable pregame send-off.
Then something strange happened at the Staples Center.
Before the game, the Lakers franchise had gifted Kobe a ring with five large diamonds and 20 smaller diamonds, the former symbolizing the championships he won and the latter signifying the number of years he played for them.
The real gift, however, was Kobe scoring 60 points that night, the most memorable and entertaining finale for any player in Lakers history, if not NBA history.
“This has been absolutely beautiful,” said an exhausted but elated Bryant, who took 50 shots in 42 minutes as a raucous crowd cheered him at every turn. “I can’t believe it’s come to an end.”
2) Lakers vs. Toronto, January 22, 2006
It started so innocuously on a quiet Sunday night at Staples Center.
It wasn’t a highly anticipated game. Neither the Lakers nor the Toronto Raptors were championship-caliber teams. Plus, NFL conference championship games still had to be digested from earlier in the day.
When Bryant scored 26 first-half points, it was nothing too out of the ordinary. For 98 percent of the NBA, yes, but not for Bryant.
Then he scored 27 in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth, as a delighted crowd realized they were witnessing history. He finished with 81 points, the second-highest in an NBA game ever.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss said it was “like watching a miracle unfold.” Luke Walton, Bryant’s teammate, asked for his autograph on a game ticket. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he’d seen some remarkable games, “but I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Bryant finished 19 points shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s surreal 100-point effort in 1962. Bryant called it “exhausting” to even think about scoring that many points.
“I just wanted to step up and inspire us to play well, and it turned into something special,” he said.
1) Lakers vs. Boston, NBA Finals (Game 7), June 17, 2010
The truth up front: Bryant wasn't very efficient that day. He made only six of 24 shots.
But I never saw him more overjoyed in 12 years of covering him — not even close. Beating the Celtics meant that much.
The game ended with him grabbing the ball on a clock-killing, length-of-court pass from Lamar Odom. I’ll never forget his smile as it became official: The Lakers got sweet revenge on the Celtics after getting crushed by them two years earlier in the finals.
“This one is by far the sweetest because it’s them,” Bryant said of the final championship.
Moments after the Lakers tucked away their 16th title, Bryant hopped on the scorer’s table and created an iconic image, cradling the ball in his extended left arm as purple-and-gold confetti spun around him.
Make no mistake, Bryant was off the mark in Game 7 but averaged 28.6 points in the series and was the finals MVP.
Mike Bresnahan is the Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet.