The Los Angeles Lakers have been blessed with a number of stars who have donned their jersey, but perhaps none have shined quite as bright as Kobe Bryant. Over the course of two decades, he mesmerized fans both in Los Angeles and on the road.
On April 7, 2006, Bryant put on a show in the Valley of the Sun, scoring a record-breaking 51 points in America West Arena against the Phoenix Suns.
Back then, Bryant’s Lakers were still trying to rebound from the 2004 trade that sent superstar center Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and a first-round pick that would eventually be used on Jordan Farmar.
The Lakers’ depleted starting lineup that night had Smush Parker, Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown joining Bryant and Odom.
Phoenix, meanwhile, was thriving during their “Seven Seconds Or Less” era, one that would eventually see coach Mike D’Antoni help revolutionize the way offenses are run in the NBA with the help of maestro Steve Nash.
Despite the Suns losing star big man Amare Stoudemire due to injury, it was clear that the Lakers were outmatched in spite of Bryant’s brilliance. They never led, and would ultimately lose 107-96.
Even with his teammates faltering, Bryant put on a show. He fired away, connecting on 19 of his 33 field goal attempts and hit five of 11 threes. To top it off, Bryant hit eight out of 10 free throws and scored most of his points against the Suns’ defensive stopper, Raja Bell.
After the game, the Suns asserted that Bryant had played right into their hands by scoring that much, as they had intended for Bryant to get his points but his teammates would never find their own rhythm.
They had hoped that Bryant, who picked up a technical foul in the game, could be goaded into an individual war with Bell. Bryant wasn’t buying that narrative, however, brushing off the notion by saying that he had “bigger fish to fry than Raja Bell.”
The Lakers and Suns would meet again just a few weeks later in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Suns ultimately prevailed in seven games, but Bryant produced the most memorable moment when he sunk a game-winning jumper at the buzzer in overtime of Game 4.
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