- facebook messenger
This story was originally published on April 13, 2016.
Los Angeles: The clock said midnight on Wednesday. the exhausted stands had been emptied hours before.
Now, ushers, security guards, and cleaning crews were sweeping mounds of purple and gold confetti, streamers, and balloons into white trash bags. but kobe bryant stayed on the court.
Wearing a black Los Angeles Lakers hoodie, sweatpants and a pair of sneakers, the 37-year-old gathered his family (his wife and two young daughters) at Staple Park and posed for pictures. Along with half the team. -court logo.
As the shutters closed and flashbulbs exploded, Bryant smiled, lingering at the spot where he had given the most perfect farewell, one so fitting and surreal that it too will remain in the vivid memories of those who watched it unfold almost completely. impossible.
Kobe Bryant would have turned 44 today 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/w2gq7u638b
In the final game of his 20-season career, Bryant scored 60 points and hit the game-winning shot with 31.6 seconds remaining. he scored 15 of the Lakers’ last 17 points. he surpassed only the rival (23-21) in the last quarter.
and, to round out the storybook ending, bryant led the lakers to a 101-96 victory against the utah jazz in their 1,346th and final game of the regular season, marking a farewell tour of the entire season with a performance even he couldn’t fathom.
“It’s hard to believe it happened this way,” he said after scoring his sixth career 60+ point game. “I’m still in shock.”
In October, Bryant’s first shot of the preseason in Hawaii hit the side of the backboard, heralding a struggling season.
tribute videos, standing ovations and chants were still pouring in, even though bryant kept failing, earning comparisons to willie mays with the new york mets and johnny unitas with the san diego chargers, stars in their twilight that had become shells of their former selves.
Bryant’s 20th season was finally a living wake, but unlike some aging icons, he never backed out of the spotlight. instead, he remained the Lakers’ only target, especially as they clung to him for his relevance during their worst season in franchise history (17-65).
and he was never more in the spotlight than he was on Wednesday, starting with the fact that bryant attempted a career-high 50 shots, the most since he took 47 in 2002.
according to elias sports bureau, bryant became the first player since rick barry in february 1967 to attempt at least 50 shots in a game.
bryant took 58.8 percent of his team’s 85 shots, the highest shooting percentage his team has ever taken in a game, even more than when he scored 81 points. in essence, kobe’s end game was so kobe. he has always been a gunner, shooting as much as he pleases, even excessively.
And he’s been ultra greenlit this season, but never more so than in his finale, and he made the most of it. “My teammates kept cheering me on, [telling me] ‘shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot,'” Bryant said.
bryant played like he was trying to drain every shot of his basketball soul, satisfying fans who didn’t spend thousands to watch it happen anyway. he said his nerves got to him a bit, but to keep his emotions in check, he had planned to follow his typical game-day routine, busying himself by focusing on the matchup.
“It didn’t work out that way,” he laughed. “there were so many people to talk to and things to sign and pictures to take. i just gave into it. i just said, this is ok, this is great. just let it go, let it go. just enjoy it. it was fun.”
several times, bryant’s feelings nearly overcame him, like when he put on his socks, shoes, and t-shirt or ran out of the tunnel. “Okay, you have to block that out because none of that makes a difference if you come here and lay an egg completely,” he told himself. “so you have to concentrate and focus and then you can be nostalgic all you want later tonight and tomorrow.”
In terms of his morning, Bryant said he plans to exercise, if only to avoid falling into bad habits. He will work out of his corporate office, where he is fiercely hell-bent on building Kobe Inc. in an empire that will one day eclipse his mythical basketball legacy.
Many Lakers fans and others will no doubt want to see him play basketball again, in some capacity. they can take a look on social media, he says, but he claimed he will never play in the nba again. His body just can’t take it anymore.
The fact that he walked off the court on Wednesday is almost as miraculous as his point total. After all, his last three seasons were cut short by injury, and even Bryant admitted there were times this season when his body failed him to the point where he worried he might not make it to the finish line.
These concerns arose after the Lakers played the Dallas Mavericks earlier this season, Bryant said. Despite all the physical therapy and treatment she received on a daily basis, his body still felt terrible, she was still sore and stiff.
then he wondered, “maybe this is the time to be a father and this is what happens. it was a very difficult time for me,” bryant said. “I didn’t know if I could recover [together].”
Missed games to rest. he played limited minutes at others. By the end of this season, he was so wrapped up in hot packs on the bench that he looked mummified.
the ultimate goal: to help him get out of his last game unscathed so he can walk alone.
“It’s surreal,” he said of leaving the court for the last time. “it’s hard to describe. it’s almost like you’re in a fog and everything is moving extremely slowly but extremely fast. you’re trying to look and take it all in. you’re trying to observe and you’re not quite sure where to look to take it all in. very hard to do. But it’s like a dream.”
bryant had told his young daughters that he used to come up with big numbers like that quite often. “really?” They Asked. “youtube it”, she told them she.
Wednesday did not mark the perfect ending, because, for him, a perfect sixth championship would have been. But the Lakers are stuck in the basement of the NBA, so all he could do was try to put on a show, which he gloriously did once again.
As he sat on the dais before a packed press conference, with media credited 450-500 for his final match, Bryant pulled on his jersey. he looked like he didn’t want to take it off, move on and leave his lifelong obsession behind, but he laughed at the idea. “I thought I’d come here early tonight because I know you guys [the media] have deadlines and stuff,” Bryant said. “It’s not like I have to ice it. What takes a lot of time is I have to ice it, I have to stretch, [get physical therapy]. [But] what am I going to do that for, the treadmill tomorrow? I thought I would get over here a lot quicker and get going.”
then bryant paused. he talked about how his teammates doused him with champagne when he walked into the locker room after the game. ‘”That’s only for championships,” he told them, “but that’s fine.”
I could smell the champagne on his jersey, just like last June when the Lakers were dominant. So Bryant admitted it. he wasn’t ready to move on. “Removing it is going to be very strange,” he said.
when he hit a 20-footer in the last minute to give the lakers a 97-96 lead, the crowd erupted, raving because bryant gave them one more game-winning shot. His last point came at the free throw line, as did his first point in New York on November 11. 5, 1996.
bryant played all but 4.1 seconds into his final frame, walking away to another cheer and more deafening roars. After hugging his teammates and former teammates, a sweat-soaked and exhausted Bryant walked to midcourt and addressed the crowd. “You know, I can’t believe how quickly 20 years went by,” Bryant said. “this is crazy.”
video tributes included jack nicholson and snoop dogg, shaquille o’neal and phil jackson, kevin durant and lebron james, and magic johnson called bryant the greatest laker of all time.
After all that, Bryant told fans how much he appreciated them staying loyal throughout his career. he told them how much it meant to play alone for the lakers, a team he loved since childhood. “what can I say?” Bryant said with a big smile. “mamba out”.
then, hours later, mamba returned. On the side of the court, Bryant autographed the commemorative no. 8, signing simply “kobe.” on the other hand, she signed the commemorative no. 24 with “laker for life! kobe 24”.
took photos, shook hands, hugged and said goodbye. Bryant received numerous parting gifts throughout the year, but none topped the one the Lakers gave him: a full season to do whatever he wanted.
To return the favor, bryant’s poor play often helped his team lose, giving the lakers a better chance of keeping their first-round pick protected in the top three this summer. marked the strangest irony of this season-long spectacle, this yellow brick road that stretched from october to april and ended on a spring night in downtown los angeles, where basic downtown shook as if the good morning were here again, where thousands of fans gathered outside as if a championship had been won.
at 12:20 a.m. m., when Wednesday became Thursday, the newest ex-Laker left the court, but not before taking a knee and slapping the Lakers logo twice. He had given the team and this city so many memories, as well as more than half of his life, and now he had given them all his own parting gift: a night to remember forever.