Los Angeles: Kobe Brayant as NBA legend
By forcing greatness through will. By carving an all-time-worthy finale through sheer grit. And by etching himself even deeper into the game’s history and our own memories than we’d thought possible. Sixty points. That’s what a 37-year-old Kobe Bryant dropped on the Utah Jazz, on the league, on all of us who sat and watched and marveled. He said goodbye to the game with a bucket- raining torrent of points and shots that baffled and delighted. He put up 50 shots, the most in the modern era for a single game. He made 22 of them. He was just 6-of-21 from the 3-point
line. He had moments that made us grimace, truly. No matter.
Fans rattled themselves and screamed. Dignitaries and the famous looked up in awe.
Bucket after bucket, shot after shot, Kobe Bean Bryant reached down to whatever
remained in that Hall of Fame body and delivered it to a riveted and bewitched Staples
Center. "I’ve never seen or been a part or a witness to anything like that," his coach and friend Byron Scott said. "I told the guys, ’You just witnessed history.’ That man gave everything he had. He was exhausted with seven minutes left in the
game. I knew it. He knew it. But somehow through sheer will he did it. He carried the
game. That he took it over is amazing to me — mind boggling."
Looking back, of course he would. Of course he did. What else could he do? How else would the man who shot the third-most shots in NBA history say goodbye?
He would shoot the ball. And then shoot it again.And again. He started by missing five straight shots, in ugly fashion. It was a visual and painful reminder that the Kobe Bryant you knew was gone. Right? Vanished by time. Erased by age. Poof, gone. And then, in that same first quarter, he re-emerged. For a moment he was Black Mamba again. He made four straight shots and Staples tilted on its axis. A short jumper that kissed the sky and then landed to thunderous applause, the first points of his final game, the true start to a night that would end so improbably. There would be many more.
He attacked the rim next, got fouled, was knocked to the ground — and two teammates rushed to pick him up. This was his day. He would not stay on the floor. They lifted him up, and he made both free throws to "MVP!" chants. Then
a long 2-pointer from the corner. Then a 3, to "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" All game, the seesaw continued. A turnover. A bucket. A 3-pointer. Two straight airballs. He grinded through it, and somehow there was actual beauty in the struggle. He was raging against the inevitable, one last time, a legend against the end.
The dam broke in the fourth quarter, the last of his career, the final goodbye. He poured it on. He scored 23, went 8-of-16, and single- handedly turned a loss that wouldn’t truly have mattered against Utah into a 101-96 win that was one of the most remarkable exclamation points a player has ever served up on his own
The awe was palpable, and when Kobe finally left the game it was to as much shock and gapes as it was to thunderous applause and love. Afterward, when his career was truly over, when there would be no more, he stood at center court, let the moment sink in, and then turned to the crowd. He began: "Man!" The crowd laughed, and roared. We all did. Man. Indeed. "You know, I can’t believe how fast 20 years
went by," he said. "This is crazy. This is absolutely crazy. To be standing here at center court right now with you guys, my teammates behind me. I appreciate the journey that we’ve been on. We’ve been through our ups and been through our downs. The most important part is we all stayed together throughout.