Former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant regularly spoke about how he aimed to ‘destroy’ in his first showdown with Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, but it was actually their third matchup that was far more memorable.
On Dec. 17, 1997, with Shaquille O’Neal out of the lineup early in Bryant’s second year, the sophomore guard showed one of the first glimpses of how great he’d become by dropping 33 points off of the bench in an electric scoring duel with Jordan, who scored 36 points to lead the Bulls to a 104-83 victory.
While the Bulls won handily, the Lakers would have been even more doomed without Bryant’s theatrics to make up for O’Neal’s absence. Bryant showed that at some point in the near future he’d deserve a starting spot and might even one day become the best player in the league.
But Bryant wouldn’t start his first game of the season until nearly two months later, and the title of best player in the league was still firmly in Jordan’s grasp.
He displayed his dominance against Bryant and the Lakers by making 12 of 22 shots and getting to the free throw line 12 times, converting 11 of them.
Bryant was also fairly efficient in the loss, going 12-of-20 from the field and knocking down three of five 3-point attempts.
The game was the second-to-last battle between Bryant and Jordan before the latter hung up his Bulls uniform for the final time. Although he ultimately would go up against Bryant several more times during his comeback with the Washington Wizards.
Still, it’s one of the few times Bryant and Jordan ever got to really match up while neither was a shell of themselves. And it’s worth remembering even if the Shaq-less Lakers couldn’t get the result they really wanted against the Bulls, who would go on to win the NBA title that season.
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