LOS ANGELES — It was a night that Kobe Bryant couldn’t have imagined unfolding the way it had in the final game of his illustrious 20-year career that was all spent with the Los Angeles Lakers scoring a season-high 60 points in a 101-96 win on Wednesday night.
Leading up to the game there was an ever-increasing buzz about how the things would transpire in his last game that he had hoped that he could approach just as any typical game.
“[It] didn’t work out that way, in a good way,” Bryant said. “There were so many people to take to, items to be signed, pictures to be taken. I just gave myself up to that. I just said, ‘This is fine, this cool. Let it go, let it ride, enjoy it.’ It was fun.”
The setting of the special evening was set hours before the game even began with the hundreds of fans crowding the street outside Staples Center on Chick Hearns Court and L.A. Live in a scene that was very reminiscent to a championship parade. There were two walls set up where fans could show their appreciation with their own personalized message for Bryant, and there were three large photos of him in memorable moments in his career with the words “#thankyoukobe” on them that were placed on the arena.
Bryant arrived for his final NBA game at 5:15 p.m. in a black suit, black shirt, and black tie, while he walked down the hallway crowded by the media towards the Lakers locker room.
Prior to the game, Magic Johnson spoke highly of Bryant that included calling him the greatest Lakers player ever before introducing a five-minute video that included several former teammates such as Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and former head coach Phil Jackson along with several current NBA players Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kevin Garnett, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and actor Jack Nickolson.
It was followed up by a video during the team’s introduction with head coach Byron Scott along with several teammates that included D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, and Metta World Peace all voicing their gratitude toward Bryant.
The Game didn’t start out in a special way for the 37-year-old as he missed his first five shots but quickly turned things around making his next five shots scoring 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points of the game. It was a topsy-turvy type of performance in the first two quarters making 7-of-20 field goal attempts for a first-half high 22 points.
The evening was made more special with the videos shown throughout the game at each timeout and break between the quarters that featured many celebrities . During the first timeout, Ice Cube, O’Shea Jackson Jr., John Legend, Justin Bieber, Flea, Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, and Snoop Dogg all poured out their appreciation.
The following timeout, the next video tribute had several Lakers’ Hall of Famers in Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James worthy along with former Lakers assistant coach Bill Bertka. In the rest of first half, there were a couple more video tributes that featured celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Zach Effron, Chelsea Handler, Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul, Ellen Degeneres, and Jimmy Kimmel.
Another video had several current NBA players and coaches such as Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, James Harden, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Klay Thompson, Jamal Crawford, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul.
At halftime, O’Neal, Jackson, Scott, Fisher, World Peace, Odom, Ariza, Gasol, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton, and Brian Shaw gave their most memorable moments with Bryant. There were several more videos tribute played in the second half that featured Andy Garcia, Diane Cannon, George Lopez, Jeremy Piven, Sharon Stone, Spike Lee.
There was also a video that featured Clayton Kershaw, Odell Beckham Jr., Yasiel Puig, Michael Strahan, Alexander Ovechkin, Anze Kopitar, Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe, Chuck Liddell, David Beckham, and Robbie Keane. It was all topped off by the last being of his wife Vanessa Bryant and his two girls, Natalia, and Gianna.
Bryant came out the second half playing in all 24 minutes firing away as he did continually lit up the scoreboard. He made three of his first four shots, but it was quite evident that he was wearing down physically missing his next four shots that included a pair air balled three-pointers. However, to his strong reputation of unmatched willpower, he fought through the fatigue by making three consecutive shots that included his patent fadeaway baseline jumper and a layup that pushed his total to 37 points through third quarters, just one shy of his season-high.
“I was really, really tired. I just had to continue to push,” Bryant said. “The fans’ support was tremendous. I think that is the thing that I’m going to remember most.”
Bryant proved one final time why he was regarded as one of the game’s best finisher singled handily guiding the Lakers back from a double-digit deficit in the final 2:16 in the fourth quarter by scoring 13 consecutive points that included his patent mid-range jumper from the right elbow that gave Los Angeles a 97-96 with 31 seconds left. He followed it a pair of free throws and capped it off with a pass to Jordan Clarkson in transition for a dunk to ice the game with 4.1 seconds,
After the Jazz called a timeout on that final play, he embraced the team’s young core in Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle in a hug and also gave a long hug with O’Neal near the Lakers’ bench. It was a night that had come full circle for Bryant showing his scoring prowess one last time by recording 60 or more points for the sixth time in his career in front of many of his former teammates that had been a part of those 24 previous nights where he scored 50 points.
“The coolest thing is that my kids actually saw me play like I used to play. It was like, ‘Whoa, dad!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I used to do this pretty often,'” Bryant said. “They were like, ‘really?’ I said, ‘Dude, YouTube it.’ You know what I mean? It was pretty cool for them to actually see that”
It may have taken a career-high 50 field goal attempts in 42 minutes played, including 21 three-point attempts to accomplish that feat, but it was still quite a surprising performance for the five-time NBA champion.
“I can’t believe this actually happened, to be honest,” Bryant said, who became the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points in a single game. “This is kind of crazy to me, the last game at home. It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way, it really is. Just the outpour of support all night long, former teammates, fans, and family. It’s unbelievable. I’m still in shock about it.”
It was something that head coach Byron Scott had never been a part of in his entire NBA career as a coach and player.
“It was incredible. I’ve never seen it, never been part of it, never witnessed anything like that,” Scott said. “I told the guys just a minute ago that they just witnessed history. I hope they savor the moment. I hope they realize that man gave everything he had for 20 years, and he did it again tonight.
“He was exhausted with seven minutes left in the game. Somehow, just his sheer will, his sheer determination, just the guts that he has. Kind of put everybody on his back and carried them, carried the game and taking it over is just amazing to me. It’s mind boggling.”
It was an experience that many of the Lakers younger players were honored to be a part of and drew plenty of motivation from.
“That was one of the craziest things I’ve ever gotten to witness,” Russell said. “It’s a feeling that you want to remember and want to get that point one day. It’s just really a lot of motivation going on to that.”
Bryant’s willpower to push on through goes much further deeper as it was another prime example of his dedication to the game that has further inspired his now-former teammates.
“He just gave himself to the game. That’s the blueprint man,” Clarkson said. “If you want to win and you want to be a champion that’s how you have to do it.”
In what was the worst season in franchise history, Bryant for at least one night had Staples Center rumbling and feeling the utter sensation like the team had just won NBA championship. It was one of the most memorable performance of his career.
It was an outing that has never been seen before because of the magnitude leading up to the night of it being the last game for arguably one of the greatest players to play in the NBA. He had been a shadow of himself throughout the year with a few moments scattered throughout the season, but nothing materialized more truly like Wednesday night to kind of special player that Bryant once was. What it does more than anything, is mark the end of to an era in Los Angeles.
“There’s no way I could possibly imagine this happen. I’m deeply honored by the fans,” Bryant said. “To be able to put on that type of show for them, because of all the support they’ve given me. How we grew up together — the fans that have been coming here since day one. To give them this type of show on the last one means everything.”