Kobe Bryant has a long list of greatest games. This gem from March 1999 starts the list…
In 1999, Kobe Bryant was known as a high school phenom turned professional with huge potential to be an all time great. Still. In his sophomore season, he showed the basketball world what his potential was.
In a game against the Orlando Magic on March 21, 1999, Kobe took an incredible step forward for the soon to be superstar.
This late season game against the Orlando Magic had other big implications. Shaquille O’Neal would be returning to square-off against his old ball club as well. He’d faced boos everytime he touched the ball.
That didn’t stop the Big Aristotle though. O’Neal was still in the midst of his dominant prime and he came up big for the Lakers vs the Magic. Shaq scored 31 points on 14-of-19 shooting to go with 13 rebounds.
It was young Kobe Bryant who carried this team from a listless first half, resulting in a 20 point deficit, to a massive comeback & an 11 point win.
Mamba started the first half quietly, managing just five points as the Lakers trailed 63-43.
Bryant — in some of the earliest evidence of his future legendary clutchness— did what superstars are supposed to do. and took the game into his own hands in the second half.
Kobe scored 33 points over the final 24 minutes to finish with a season- high- 38 points. He also managed four assists , three rebounds, two steals and a block to help Shaquille O’Neal beat his old team.
After giving up 63 points in the first 3 quarters, LA would hold Orlando to just 41 points in the second half.
The Lakers also shot 10-of-16 from 3-point range in the victory, the type of long-distance success necessary to make a comeback like they did against the Magic. Still , like with so many games back in the late 1990’s, they couldn’t have done it without the second half explosion from Bryant.
The Lakers would end up defeating the Magic but the game’s REAL story was from the 20 year old star in the making.
Kobe would plenty of career-defining games over the next 19 seasons in the NBA but this was one of the first glimpses of the clutch venom in the veins of the Black Mamba.