By the end of tonight, Kobe Bryant will have played his 16th and final Christmas Day game for the purple and gold. Just let that set in for a second.
With the storied past and allure of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, the team will always have a strong case to get a spot in one of the biggest basketball days of the NBA season. Not even Byron Scott can mess that up.
Looking at the numbers, Bryant leads the NBA in all-time Christmas day points with 383 over 15 games for an average of 25.5 per game. On Friday night, Kobe will also add to his lead for all-time games played on the holiday. There have only been four times throughout his remarkable 20-year career that he has not played on Christmas. One of the factors that has helped Kobe separate himself from other basketball greats is his unparalleled ability to continue playing at a high level over the course of his lengthy career, and that is something he has consistently proven on Christmas day.
When the Mamba announced his retirement earlier this season, an abundance of emotions came upon me. One of those emotions was nostalgia, as there were a whirlwind of highlights and games that came to mind. There were of course many ups and downs throughout the years from blowout losses to nail-biting wins against age-old rivals. With a match up with the cross-town rival Los Angeles Clippers looming tonight, I thought now would be a fitting time to reminisce on my favorite Kobe Christmas Day games.
3.) 2012 vs New York Knicks
Third on my list of Bryant’s Christmas games was the last time we saw him actually play during the holiday. This was a back-and-forth battle between East coast and West coast, but the Lakers got the last laugh. While 2012 was such a turbulent year for the franchise, a 100-94 win in a match up with a very good Knicks team was one of the bright spots along the way. Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant, two of the game’s most prolific scorers, went head-to-head in this one with each of them scoring 34 points to lead their team. During that game Bryant had an extremely acrobatic reverse layup that I’ll always remember as one of my favorite Kobe highlights. Unfortunately, Bryant was not able to finish the year healthy. We will always wonder what could have been with that star-studded roster but for that season Kobe played miraculously and his Christmas day showing was just a step along the way.
2.) 2004 vs Miami Heat
Coming in at second on my list was an overtime clash between former teammates, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. This Christmas day game was the first time Kobe and Shaq faced off after the latter demanded a trade a few days removed from a NBA Finals appearance (imagine if Twitter was around for that). Although the Lakers came up short on the scoreboard, Bryant was a machine, pouring in 42 points on 30 shots to go with six assists. My favorite aspect of this particular game was the way it lived up to all the hype surrounding Bryant and O’Neal. An overtime thriller with Kobe giving everything he had to keep the Lakers in the game: There is not much more you can ask for.
1.) 2008 vs Boston Celtics
Without a doubt my favorite Christmas day game would have to be the 2008 victory over the Boston Celtics. After an excruciating defeat in the 2008 NBA Finals, Kobe and the gang were out for revenge against the Celtics in another classic installment of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Not only was this a revenge game, but the 92-83 victory also notched the 1000th win of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. Although Bryant was very effective scoring the ball in that game, he took over late with his play making and hustle. Bryant went 13-of-23 from the floor, tallying 27 points to go along with 9 rebounds, five assists, and a late game steal that sealed the Lakers victory. I remember watching this game and being at the edge of my seat the entire time watching such a fluid, well-polished basketball team battle out a victory. This era of the Lakers brought fans so much joy and thrill with Kobe being the driving force in the team’s return to championship glory. The two teams would obviously continue their rivalry later on in the 2010 NBA Finals, where the Lakers exacted their revenge and took home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
When this season comes to an end, there will be a part of me missing as a basketball fan. Kobe has played as many seasons as I have been alive. Trying to imagine watching basketball without No. 24 next year is an obscure feeling, but we as fans should commemorate the memories we have been given. As we all know, Bryant has given us plenty to look back on.