It’s bound to be a bittersweet event, seeing the Black Mamba finally call it quits after a long and legendary career. The man himself will probably be relieved, though, to be free from the ice packs covering his whole body just to get through a game this year.
While most will be honoring Bryant’s great achievements and greater passion for the sport with kind words, let’s not forget one predominant feeling the Mamba evoked not so long ago: terror.
Look back 10 years ago to the 2005-06 season when Kobe started a five-year reign as the baddest baller in the planet, winning two NBA titles in three straight Finals appearances, two scoring championships, and incredibly, just a single MVP award in that span. Just from the 2005-06 to the 2006-07 seasons, Bryant scored 17 of his 24 50-point games. The Mamba was a bad, bad man back in those days.
Many remember the 81-point game against Toronto, or the 62-point three quarters against Dallas (which happened a month before his evisceration of the Raptors). But surprise, surprise, the man himself doesn’t list the Raps or the Mavs as teams he likes to terrorize, err, face the most.
Bryant’s been quite nostalgic in his final season, sharing plenty of tidbits along the way. One of them: his favorite opponents, namely the San Antonio Spurs, the Sacramento Kings, the Boston Celtics, the Detroit Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls.
He gives no explanation but perhaps it’s a list fueled by intense battles he’s had against those teams. Out of all his Western Conference opponents, Bryant has been challenged by the Spurs the most, averaging just 23.6 points his entire career, the worst among all West teams. On the other hand, Kobe liked to torture the Kings, the only team in this list he’s scored more than 50 points in a game. But their early 2000s rivalry was just pure fun to watch.
Looking at the stats in Bryant’s long career, it’s arguable that there are other teams he faced that brought out the best in the Mamba. Here’s a list of the unlucky seven squads he slayed the most based on his performance:
Tale of the tape: 27.3 points per game, 113 offensive rating, 109 defensive rating, in 62 career games
Best game: 65 points (23-39 FG, 8-12 three-pointers), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Portland is just one of five teams (the others are Dallas, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston, and Phoenix Suns) Bryant had torched for at least 50 points more than once. His 65 points on that March 16, 2007 game is his second highest total behind the 81 against Toronto.
He averages a personal best 27.3 points against them, and has a field day shooting against the Blazers with a 46.8 percent clip (second highest among all teams he’s faced). Not to mention being all pumped up on defense, with a 109 defensive rating that’s third among all opposing squads in his career.
Tale of the tape: 27 ppg, 113 offensive rating, 107 defensive rating
Best game: 81 pts (28-46 FG, 7-13 3PT), 6 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl
The 81-point game may have inflated his offensive stats against the Toronto franchise, but Bryant has showcased more than his scoring when he’s up against them. He shoots at his best against this team's defense with a 47.1 percent clip. Plus, he rebounds at a second-highest career rate with six per game, and passes the ball at a third-best 5.4 per outing.
Bryant also has 47 steals against the Raptors, tied for first among Eastern Conference teams, along with the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat. The Mamba’s competitive fire definitely burns hot against Toronto.
Tale of the tape: 27 ppg, 113 offensive rating, 106 defensive rating
Best game: 43 pts (15-33 FG, 4-11 3PT), 9 reb, 1 stl (aside from this game below)
Bryant has dropped at least 40 against Golden State seven times, which is why it is the team he has scored the most points in his career. He’s also played the most games against them with 67, tied with the LA Clippers and Memphis.
The early 2000s Warriors, though, are far removed from the team dominating the league now. Defense was just an afterthought in the Nellie-ball style of run-and-gun basketball. Too bad, since it coincided with Kobe’s prime and the Mamba strikes relentless without mercy.
Tale of the tape: 26.9 ppg, 115 offensive rating, 108 defensive rating
Best game: 50 pts (16-29 FG, 2-5 3PT), 7 reb, 1 ast
Bryant has scored the least among Western opponents against New Orleans. But that doesn’t consider some facts: like the franchise starting only in 2002, a full six years after Kobe entered the league, and started out in the East for the first two years.
But despite that, Bryant averages 26.9 points, fourth highest in his career, and both his offensive and defensive ratings against New Orleans are in the Top 5 against all teams—Kobe’s only been as all-around efficient against two other teams, Sacramento and Washington Wizards.
Tale of the tape: 26.5 ppg, 108 offensive rating, 106 defensive rating
Best game: 45 pts (20-26 FG, 1-1 3PT), 4 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl
The offensive and defensive ratings appear mediocre, precisely because Bryant had to earn his points battling against the tough defense of the Jeff Van Gundy-coached Rockets in the early 2000s. They also had a Kobe stopper named Shane Battier back then. But heck, he still managed to rise above the challenge and drop at least 45 on Houston six times.
Aside from Memphis, Houston is the only other recipient of Vino's 50-point games on three separate occasions, hence the high scoring average. The Rockets have a textbook-thick playbook on stopping Bryant, which made him want to beat Houston even more.
Tale of the tape: 26.5 ppg, 117 offensive rating, 107 defensive rating
Best game: 61 pts (19-31 FG, 3-6 3PT), 3 ast
Madison Square Garden has traditionally brought out the best in great players. Kobe is no exception. In fact, his 61-point game remains an MSG record as the most scored by an opponent. (FYI, Carmelo Anthony holds the highest points scored in the Garden, dropping 62 in 2012.)
Also, Bryant’s offensive rating of 117 against New York is tops compared to all the NBA teams he’s battled. And he is in true killer mode on the offensive end against the Knicks, scoring at his most efficient from the field, beyond the arc, and even on the stripe for a career-best true shooting percentage of 57.6 percent.
Tale of the tape: 26.5 ppg, 116 offensive rating, 108 defensive rating
Best game: 48 pts (15-29 FG, 1-1 3PT), 16 reb, 8 ast, 2 stl
Nothing fires up the Black Mamba better, aside from a trip to MSG, than cowbells. We’re talking about Sacramento and the crowd’s penchant for cowbells and more cowbells. His net offensive and defensive ratings against the Kings are second only to his rate against Washington. Against the Wizards, though, Bryant makes a living from beyond the arc, shooting at a personal-best 40.1 percent rate from three.
Against the Kings, Kobe is a monster from all spots of the floor and averages more points per outing. Plus, his memorable playoff moments against Sac-town are some of the man’s greatest hits, like that 48-point, 16-rebound Game 4 where he was a one-man wrecking ball against the talent-laden Kings.