If you asked many longtime fans of the Phoenix Suns who their most disliked opponent of all-time is, many of them wouldn’t bat an eye before answering “Kobe Bryant.”
There’s a reason for that.
Like he has against most NBA teams since breaking into the league as a teenager in 1996, Bryant has feasted on the Suns.
And, he’s one of the few superstar opponents who has voiced a dislike toward the Suns.
In 2012, he told ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande that he “plain and simple” just doesn’t like the Suns.
“They used to whip us pretty good and used to let us know about it,” Bryant said in the piece. “And I. Will. Not. Forget. That.”
Bryant, who has played against the Suns 86 times in his storied career (but has missed the last five contests, including all three this season), will face Phoenix for the last time Wednesday night. The 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion is retiring at the end of the season.
Of course, it’s fair to ask if Bryant will even play against the Suns. He hadn’t played in nine days before scoring 20 points in the Lakers’ 107-100 win over Memphis Tuesday night. He was asked by Los Angeles media if he’ll be on the court in Phoenix.
“I’ll be playing,” he said with a smile.
In celebration of what has been a great career, we take a look back at Bryant’s career against the Phoenix Suns.
• Including the playoffs, Bryant has played 86 games against the Suns. The Lakers are 50-36 in those games; 38-25 in the regular season and 12-11 in the postseason. Twice, Bryant-led Lakers teams have eliminated the Suns from the playoffs. In 2000, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal teamed up to eliminate the Suns in five games in the Western Conference semifinals. Bryant averaged 21 points per game in the series. Ten years later, Bryant’s Lakers beat the Suns in six games in the Western Conference Finals. In that series, Bryant scored 33.7 points per game, including 40 in Game 1 and 37 in L.A.’s Game 6 clincher.
• Both times Bryant’s Lakers teams eliminated the Suns in the playoffs, they went on to win a championship.
• Bryant averaged 26.9 points per game against Phoenix in his career. That per game average went up to 29.0 in postseason action.
• Kobe torched the Suns for 50 or more points on two occasions, and they came within the same month. On April 7, 2006, Bryant hit for 51 points in a game won by Phoenix, 107-96. In the playoffs just 27 days later, “Black Mamba” hit for 50 points in another loss. The Suns won 126-118 to even a first-round playoff series at 3-3.
• Bryant is one of only two players to have 50+ points in a single game against the Suns twice. Michael Jordan is the other.
• Bryant has had 11 games of 40 or more points against the Suns. Jordan hit that mark against Phoenix 10 times.
Bryant’s Best Games vs. Phoenix
May 4, 2006: Game 6, Western Conference Quarterfinals
Although the Lakers ended up losing this series in the opening round, Game 6 was vintage Kobe. Being up 3-2 in the series, Kobe did everything in his power to will his team to an unlikely first-round upset over the second-seeded Suns. Bryant dropped 50 points, shooting 57 percent from the field and connecting on 62 percent of his three-pointers. Los Angeles took the game to overtime, but even Kobe couldn’t carry the Lakers to a win. Phoenix triumphed, 126-118.
April 23, 2007: Game 3, Western Conference Quarterfinals
One year after falling to the Suns in the first round, Kobe and the Lakers found themselves matched against Phoenix once again. The Suns made it easy and finished off Los Angeles in five games instead of seven, but that didn’t stop Kobe from being Kobe. After scoring only 15 points in Game 2 in Phoenix, Kobe redefined the phrase “put the team on your back”, and carried the Lakers to a 95-89 win at Staples Center. Bryant finished with 45 points on 15-of-26 shooting from the field.
May 17, 2010: Game 1, Western Conference Finals
After defeating the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals the previous year, Kobe and the Lakers were gunning for their first repeat title since the early 2000’s. Los Angeles and Phoenix met in the conference finals, this time though, roles reversed. The Lakers were the overwhelming favorite, and Kobe played like it. The shooting guard exploded for a series-high 40 points, and the Lakers blew the door off the hinges in a 128-107 Game 1 victory. Kobe’s Game 1 performance set the stage for a dominating conference finals for him as he averaged 33.6 points per game in the series, which the Lakers claimed in six games. They’d go on to defeat the Boston Celtics in seven games to claim another NBA title.
They Weren’t All Great Moments
After the Lakers jumped out to an improbable 3-1 series lead in a first-round playoff matchup in 2006, the heavily-favored Suns fought back to tie the series at 3-3. Playing Game 7 on their home floor, Phoenix jumped out to a 60-45 halftime lead despite 23 points from Bryant. The Suns would go on to win 121-90, but more curiously, Bryant disappeared in the second half, scoring only one point and taking three shots.
“If we were going to get back in this type of game, we have to have everybody contributing,” Bryant explained after the game. To those viewing, it looked more like a frustrated All-Star taking his ball and going home when a playoff series was on the line.
Kobe’s First Game vs. the Suns
November 17, 1996 – At age 18, rookie Kobe Bryant came off the Lakers’ bench to score 16 points in 14 minutes of playing time in a 102-88 win over the Suns. The loss was the ninth straight for Phoenix to start the season, and Danny Ainge’s first game as head coach after he took over for Cotton Fitzsimmons. It was only the second time in Bryant’s young career that he scored in double figures.
OK, so Kobe Bryant had played in eight games, if that’s what you want to call 59 minutes loaded down by fouls, turnovers and forced shots. But this was his first real appearance, 14 minutes that he turned into four three-point baskets in six tries and 16 points to help the Lakers to a 102-88 victory before 19,023 at America West Arena, ruining Ainge’s coaching debut and dropping the Suns to 0-9.
A star is born … again.
In the 2006 playoffs, Bryant averaged 23 points per game during the first four contests of a first-round playoff matchup with the heavily-favored Suns. The Lakers had a surprising 3-1 series lead. In Game 5 in Phoenix, the Suns were on their way to a victory in the fourth quarter when guard Raja Bell clothes-lined Bryant on his way into the paint. Bell was ejected and earned a one-game suspension for Game 6, but instantly became a folk hero in the Valley of the Sun.
In the aftermath of the ejection, Bell teed off verbally on Bryant.
“I have no respect for him,” he said. “I think he’s a pompous, arrogant individual.”
Bell claimed he had been hit in the face on numerous occasions by Bryant during the season, and finally had enough.
The Suns survived Game 6 in Los Angeles 126-118 in overtime, despite Bryant going off for 50. Phoenix would easily win Game 7 in Phoenix two days later.