Mamba Day 2018: Players and Teams Kobe Tortured Most Throughout His Career
Kobe Bryant spared no one on the basketball court.
If you were wearing a different jersey, you were a target. His mentality was that focused on equal-opportunity destruction—a hallmark for a player whose greatness was predicated in large part on his indefatigable competitive fire.
But some players and teams wound up feeling his wrath more frequently than others, and it's those we'll be covering on this latest edition of Mamba Day. Whether they fell prey to his trash-talking habits, wound up on the wrong end of notable highlights or simply couldn't slow him down, they all have one thing in common.
Based on their history with No. 8/24, they can't be too displeased that he's retired and unable to do further damage.
The Ultimate Embarrassment
Matt Barnes' career was one giant Kobe Bryant curse.
He joined the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2010-11 season, eager to help the Purple and Gold win their third consecutive title. Instead, they were swept out of the second round by the Dallas Mavericks and couldn't make it any further in the subsequent campaign before Barnes left for the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency during the summer of 2012.
In head-to-head matchups against Bryant, he nearly drew even with a 13-14 record throughout his career. But that didn't prevent the legendary shooting guard from posting lofty numbers against him: 28.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.4 blocks while slashing 44.8/32.6/86.2.
And yet, nothing was worse than the 2010 misadventure for which there's video evidence you can see above.
Barnes attempted to get in Bryant's head by faking a pass directly into his opponent's dome...except Bryant didn't even flinch. He didn't even blink for that matter, instead swaying back and forth calmly while smacking on some gum. He was the perfect picture of composure, even after Barnes goes for the verbal approach when the physical threat didn't achieve the intended results.
That's inhuman. It goes against every self-preservation instinct we possess. It's more humiliating than anything else Bryant did to an opponent during his NBA career.
"That scared me a little," Barnes said after the fact, per Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum. "I mean, that wasn't even human."
Bryant's own words were even scarier.
As the Los Angeles Times relayed, he had a simple but iconic response when asked about his lack of flinching: "Why should I?"
Worst Single-Game Outcome
- Wilt Chamberlain on March 2, 1962: 100 points
- Kobe Bryant on Jan. 22, 2006: 81 points
- Wilt Chamberlain on Dec. 8, 1961: 78 points
- Wilt Chamberlain on Jan. 13, 1962; Wilt Chamberlain on Nov. 16, 1962; David Thompson on April 9, 1978: 73 points
Never has a request for olives in a martini been quite so painful.
Bryant scored at least 60 points on six different occasions (including the final game of his career, because of course), but none were more memorable than his 81-spot against Jalen Rose and the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Shaking (not stirring) his way free of the defense at every opportunity, he submitted arguably the most legendary showing of his illustrious career.
The shooting guard was unstoppable. Rose couldn't slow him down as the primary defender for much of the night, but it's not like the rest of his teammates had much more success. By the time the Lakers had emerged with a 122-104 victory, Bryant had posted 81 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block while shooting 28-of-46 from the field, 7-of-13 from downtown and 18-of-20 from the stripe.
It still ranks prominently on the all-time leaderboard for single-contest scoring outputs:
Elgin Baylor, David Robinson and Devin Booker have also crested the 70-point threshold, though Robinson and Booker both did so while their teams fouled unnecessarily to create extra possessions and artificially boost their scoring outputs. For that matter, Chamberlain's 100-point game also isn't as special as the triple-digit tally makes it seem.
Bryant's performance has no such qualifiers. It made 81 perhaps the number most identifiable with the future Hall of Famer, and it could be the most impressive scoring performance in the sport's history—status at No. 2 on the leaderboard be damned.
Ruining All the Career Highlights
First came an unabashed baptism during Howard's rookie season, as discussed and seen in the above video. Bryant posterizations were quotidian occurrences during his years of peak athleticism, but that jam over the Orlando Magic center was different. It was unique in its brutality, still standing out as one of the best dunks Bryant ever stuffed through nylon.
When House of Highlights ranked the top 10 slams of Bryant's career, this poster checked in at No. 4. Two of the entries deemed superior featured in-air acrobatics, leaving a jam over Washington Wizards-era Ben Wallace as the only one that matches or surpasses the sheer physicality of this highlight.
But Bryant wasn't done with Howard after this unpleasant welcome to NBA life.
He'd end the big man's best shot at an NBA title with a five-game pummelling of the Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals—not quite enough to pull even in the lifelong head-to-head battle, but enough to give him the victory that counts most. He was there in Tinseltown for Howard's tumultuous one-year stint with the Lakers. He even rubbed it in with a "soft" characterization during a trash-talking skirmish two seasons later.
Based on what Bryant told USA Today's Sam Amick during a 2015 interview, the respect just wasn't there:
"I tried teaching Dwight. I tried showing him. But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship—and most perceptions of what it's like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you're friends all the time. That's the perception. And I think that's what his perception was of what the idea is.
"But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it's very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge. And I don't think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature."
Rookie years are supposed to be fun and exciting, but Bryant changed Howard's perception with one drive to the hoop. He made the center's life miserable during his lone Finals appearance. He clashed with his new teammate during the 2012-13 season and let him know about it later on.
Throughout his career, he was quite the effective Howard foil.
Stars with the Least Success
- Kevin Garnett: 31-45 (.408)
- Tim Duncan: 43-39 (.524)
- Steve Nash: 28-37 (.431)
- Jason Kidd: 18-36 (.333)
- Shawn Marion: 32-35 (.478)
- Dirk Nowitzki: 21-32 (.396)
- Grant Hill: 10-30 (.250)
- Ray Allen: 21-29 (.420)
- Deron Williams: 10-26 (.278)
- Jermaine O'Neal: 9-26 (.257)
- Mitch Richmond: 1-7 (.125)
- Kevin Love: 2-12 (.143)
- David Lee: 3-17 (.150)
- Michael Redd: 3-15 (.167)
- Andre Drummond: 1-4 (.200)
- Jamal Mashburn: 3-10 (.231)
- Baron Davis: 7-22 (.241)
- Grant Hill: 10-30 (.250)
- Jermaine O'Neal: 9-26 (.257)
- Stephon Marbury: 7-19 (.269)
Throughout Bryant's decades-long career, 91 men (not including himself) graced one of the three All-NBA squads. The Lakers 2-guard compiled a .569 lifetime winning percentage against them, including both regular-season and postseason outings (some double-dipping happens here, since two All-NBAers could be matched up against him simultaneously). That's not quite as high as his overall winning percentage of .620, but it's a laudable mark well over the breakeven point against the best the Association could offer.
Perhaps even more impressively, only 23 of the 91 could post winning records against him, and many of those men did so because the majority of their battles came during the twilight of Bryant's career. Kawhi Leonard (7-0 against Bryant) is the only one he never beat.
But some have more defeats than others, and the following All-NBAers compiled more frustrations at the Mamba's hands than anyone else, including both the regular season and the playoffs:
Especially notable? Tim Duncan is the only player in these rankings who got the better of Bryant more often than not. He obviously won't populate this next countdown, which looks at the worst winning percentages earned against the future HoFer:
Poor David Lee. Combining both volume and efficiency, he's probably the biggest negative of all, though Grant Hill and Jermaine O'Neal are posting significant challenges.
Teams That Couldn't Stop Him
Bryant scored against everyone. Seriously. That's not the least bit hyperbolic.
The Detroit Pistons held his scoring repertoire in check better than anyone else, and he still averaged 22.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists during his 33 appearances against the Motor City. That scoring figure is higher than the career mark of all but 30 players in NBA history, while Larry Bird, James Harden, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Russell Westbrook are the only ones to match his output in each of the three listed categories.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum fall two Western Conference adversaries that had difficulty containing his basket attacks and harnessing his penchant for swishing difficult, heavily contested shots.
The Portland Trail Blazers ceded more points per game than anyone else against Bryant, hemorrhaging 27.3 points per contest over the course of 62 appearances. Worse still, he chipped in with an additional 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 83.5 percent from the stripe. Only the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors allowed him to post a higher true shooting percentage.
Six times, Bryant torched Rip City for at least 40 points, but no performance was more special than his 65-spot on March 16, 2007. During a 116-111 overtime victory, he went 23-of-39 from the field and turned the ball over just twice while taking complete control of the Los Angeles offense—especially in the final period, during which he scored nine of his squad's 18 points.
But the Blazers aren't the only punching bag.
The Golden State Warriors ceded a staggering 1,812 points to Bryant throughout his career, including a whopping 10 performances in which he reached the 40-point milestone. They won just a single one of those contests, though it happened to be the only time he broke past 50 on Dec. 16, 2000.
We can also highlight this in more creative fashion: Bryant scored at least 30 points in 27 separate matchups against the Dubs. Only 49 active players have 27 games of at least 30 points in their entire careers.
Most Hapless Opponent
Once we factor in more than Bryant's scoring tallies, no team has a worse track record against the legendary backcourt standout than the Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets.
In 31 regular-season contests against Bryant, they emerged victoriously in only seven. That's a 0.226 winning percentage that would prorate to a 19-63 record over the course of a full campaign. And that's probably overselling their success; the seven successful outings came by a combined 57 points, and 27 came from a single blowout victory. During the six clashes this millennium for which we have play-by-play data, the Lakers were outscored by only 29 points with Bryant on the floor.
It gets worse. Far worse.
Back when the Nets were still located in New Jersey, they were quite a bit more competitive. The 2002 iteration even worked through the Eastern Conference gauntlet to earn a matchup with the Lake Show in the NBA Finals. Of course, they were unable to prevent a Los Angeles three-peat while Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Co. got out their brooms.
That dismal performance remains one of only six sweeps since the NBA-ABA merger.
It's only natural that the Nets franchise should still be haunted by mere sights of a Bryant jersey, particularly because he stood out as an individual during that series. Though he didn't earn Finals MVP, he did average 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks while slashing a scorching 51.4/54.5/80.6.
We can throw the Sacramento Kings a dishonorable mention for going 22-42 (.344) against Bryant during the regular season, winning just five games in 16 attempts (.313) over the course of three playoff series and experiencing controversy-marred heartbreak in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. But no organization can match the Bryant-fueled ignominy of the Nets.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.