As “Mamba Week” celebrates the life and career of the legendary Kobe Bryant, let’s take a look back at his five most memorable moments against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
In his 16 visits to The Garden, Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers compiled a 10-6 record. Kobe thrived under “The Mecca’s” bright lights, averaging 29.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in his appearances at MSG.
Bryant made his Garden debut on Nov. 5, 1996. He played a limited role under Del Harris during his rookie season and only stepped on the court for 3:16 of action – finishing with one point after splitting his free throws. It was the first point of his NBA career. The Lakers won, 98-92, but after that, Bryant’s encounters with the Knicks increased in significance.
5. MSG FAREWELL
Kobe took The Garden floor for the final time on Nov. 8, 2015, and was greeted with chants of “MVP, MVP.” After the Knicks edged the Lakers 99-95, Bryant pounded his chest and waved goodbye to fans.
He finished the afternoon affair with 18 points, three assists, two rebounds, and one steal.
As a student of basketball history and the son of eight-year NBA veteran Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe understood the significance of playing at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” At the time, it was unknown whether the 2015-16 season would be the “Black Mamba’s” last, but he would announce his plan to retire from the NBA weeks later, on Nov. 29.
ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported following Bryant’s Jan. 26, 2020, passing that Bryant feared being cut by the Lakers in his final season. Bryant told Wojnarowski that if the Lakers exercised an amnesty buyout on his contract, he would have joined former Lakers head coach and then-Knicks president Phil Jackson.
“I’ll go to New York and play for Phil,” Bryant told Wojnarowski.
4. REVERSE DUNK LIGHTS UP THE GARDEN
Bryant’s career was filled with several famous dunks. Back on Feb. 6, 2003, he rocked The Garden with a high-flying reverse jam.
After blowing by Latrell Sprewell, Kobe took flight and slammed down an emphatic reverse dunk that drew ooohhh’s and ahhh’s from the 19,763 spectators in attendance.
Kobe finished the contest with 46 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block. The Lakers prevailed, 114-109.
3. BECOMES YOUNGEST PLAYER TO RECORD 20,000 POINTS
On Dec. 23, 2007, Bryant dropped 39 points on the Knicks and became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points, doing so at 29 years and 122 days. He surpassed Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael Jordan (29 years, 326 days).
Bryant fell just short of a triple-double that night, as in addition to his 39 points, he finished with 11 rebounds, eight assists, and two steals. The Lakers topped the Knicks, 95-90.
LeBron James would eventually eclipse Bryant’s record while a member of the Miami Heat on Jan. 16, 2013. James was 28 years and 17 days old.
2. ALL-STAR GAME DEBUT
Bryant became the youngest All-Star in NBA history at 19 years and 170 days when Madison Square Garden hosted the 1998 NBA All-Star Game. As a starter for the Western Conference, Kobe was pitted against his idol, Michael Jordan.
Though the Western Conference lost 135-114, Bryant led the West with 18 points while also chipping in six rebounds, two steals, and one assist in 22 minutes of action.
1. 61-POINT GAME
Madison Square Garden was the stage for one of Kobe’s signature moments on Feb. 2, 2009. Bryant cooked the Knicks for 61 points in the Lakers’ 126-117 win. He also contributed three assists and one block while putting on a shooting clinic, knocking down 19 of 31 field goals and going a perfect 20-for-20 on free throw attempts.
When it was all over, Bryant left to a standing ovation. While leaving the court, Bryant was met by Knicks superfan Spike Lee, who yelled out: “You killed them! You’re better than Mike!”
Former Knick Carmelo Anthony would later break the record by scoring 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 24, 2014, and James Harden would match Kobe’s 61 points as a visiting player on Jan. 23, 2019. But Kobe cracked 60 first.
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