Enter a winner, exit a winner.
Known to be one of the best ever to play the game, Kobe Bryant closed his storied basketball story on a magical note, scoring 60 points in his penultimate game in a win at the Staples Center against the Utah Jazz. I’m a huge Spurs fan, but as a fan of the sport in general, I devoured each and every second of the Black Mamba’s final game in his productive 20-year campaign as a Laker.
The hype was insanely built. Despite sharing the same spotlight and same timeslot with the record-catching Golden State Warriors in their 73-game season, Kobe and the Lakers owned the night. Magical as it comes, Bryant came up with an unthinkable gameplan in his last game. He gave not just his fans, but the entire world a show of how he was as a player for the entire 20-year stretch in a 48-minute affair.
Let’s run it down.
For around three hours, it was all Kobe. From the video tributes through the pregame, timeouts and quarter breaks, the Black Mamba got the respect he earned throughout his majestic years in the league. Before the game, their opponent, the Utah Jazz, were clinging to a slim chance of entering the postseason with a Houston Rockets loss in another match against the Sacramento Kings. However, the Rockets won and grabbed the final playoff spot, eliminating the now ninth-seeded Jazz and eventually making this game against the Lakers a non-bearing one.
On his interview minutes before the 1,566th game of his caeer, he told reporters in the arena that “This is going to be unbelievable. It’s a chance for me to say thank you to them, because they really pushed me. So it’s a celebration.”
Farfetched to others, attainable to some, Kobe was true to his word and showcased a spectacular 60-point performance. For one last time, he showed the world why he is the greatest Laker to wear the purple-and-gold.
He missed his first five shots. He seemed tense in the beginning. But for slumping ballers, a simple hoop and sight of seeing the ball go through the net could ignite the fire. After his first contested layup basket, he suddenly jumped to 15 points after the first twelve minutes. As an avid NBA supporter throughout the years, flashback of my childhood came with Kobe accumulating successive baskets. I knew something special would happen.
During his prime years, he was judged to be a ballhog. Someone who play isolation ball, reluctant to pass and takes contested jumpers against multiple defenders. He was hated. He was heckled. But time and again, he delivered. This game was a complete reversal as literally everyone wanted him to take every shot. You can hear from the TV coverage the mourn of the crowd everytime a possible attempt was halted. I, myself, wanted him to take every attempt. Who cares. This is his night, just give him the ball and get out of the way.
Prior to the game, the Lakers’ gameplan for Kobe was to play around 36 minutes. Play in the whole first and third period, and the last half of the second and fourth quarters. After three quarters, he already had 37. Twitter world exploded in every basket he made and a lot of them were chanting that he should go for 50. He penciled out the gameplan, and played the rest of the fourth canto.
As every basketball fan wants, a come-from-behind thrilling win is always nice in the home turf. The Jazz were playing good basketball, led by as much as ten twice in the last 200 seconds of Kobe’s farewell game. Unfortunately for them, the basketball gods had other plans for the retiring icon, as the 37-year old star showed his clutch genes in the pinnacle.
Known to be one of the best if not the best closer in the game, once again Bryant delivered for the Lakers. In the final three minutes, he was a perfect 5/5 from the field, including a timely angled three-ball, and four game-sealing free throws to seal the deal. Staples erupted in every timely Kobe hit, as it put the cherry on top on one of the most memorable career closeout to one of the all-time greats.
Personally, I wanted those shots to fall. Sorry Utah, but just give the Laker great the night already. They were down by a point with only seconds left in the clock. As good as a buzzer-beating gamewinning sounds, I think everyone would take what occur. Once again, “Kobe Bean” took matters into his own hands, knocking down the lead-giving basket, which actually reminded me of his gamewinning shot at the horn against the Phoenix Suns in ‘06. Amazing.
I could just imagine the atmosphere in the Staples Center, as all the moments the team and fans cherished for 20 years, boiled down to the final possessions wherein their hero once again brought the goods.
But what almost put me to tears was the moment with 4.1 ticks left and Utah called the final stoppage, Kobe gathered his young guns and gave a tight hug to Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. That was so special that you just know that it was the ‘passing of the torch’ moment as he leaves his beloved LA to the young ones for them to continue the ‘winning’ tradition – hey I know, they sucked this year, but let’s wait and see.
His final statline of his career tallied 60 points on 22/50 from the field, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block.
Mamba mentality. That to me is what separates Kobe to the rest of the superstars, at least in my generation. His drive for the game, and never-stopping fire to win is unmatched. Armed with countless reps in the gym, travel flights and all, the Black Mamba has always that extra kick that gives him the edge in what he does. That win was symbolic and an epitome of how he’ll do everything to be a winner. And that’s what he did. (Jan Gonzales)
Photo: from Kobe Bryant’s facebook page