It was the perfect ending to a Hollywood story. It was exhilarating, a wonderful kind of sentiment, a farewell party to never be forgotten, a night of teary eyes and memories. The farewell tour ended beautifully in front of a sold-out crowd at Staples Center, with a final episode of the Kobe Lakeshow that will surely go down as the most memorable exit performance in Los Angeles sports history.
In his last game in his 20th season, Kobe Bryant couldn’t miss a shot. He went out shooting on 50 shots, scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter, and hoisted shot after shot from the baseline, from beyond the arc, with his pull-up jumpers, his three-pointers, his mid-range jumpshots, shooting it from just about everywhere. He scored 60 points and the final basket of his career was the winning shot with 31.6 seconds left to give the Lakers the lead. He single handedly outplayed and outscored the Jazz in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of the Lakers’ final 17 points.
The crowd, already on its feet, chanted “Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be” every time he touched the ball. The place was buzzing with cheers and flashbulbs popped all around him every time he let it go and watched it swished through the net. His wife, Vanessa, and his two young daughters couldn’t stop smiling as they watched proudly from their courtside seats. It was a star-studded night and the stars came out to say goodbye and witness the Black Mamba in his final game Wednesday night at Staples Center. On this night, Jay-Z was sitting courtside with friends in awe of Bryant’s mind-boggling, heart-stopping, breathless, one-of-a-kind performance.
And how nice it was to see Kanye West running around in the stands, and Snoop going crazy and taking selfies. Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Anthony Tiffith paid $40,960.50 for two courtside tickets to see Bryant in his last game, and Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q had the best seats in the house. The Weeknd, seated next to model girlfriend Bella Hadid, watched the action. G-Eazy, the Oakland native, missed the Warriors reach a record-setting 73 wins. Arsenio Hall hung out with his friend George Lopez at Kobe’s retirement party. And, of course, the quintessential Jack Nicholson smiled and cheered from his customary spot, rocking his tinted sunglasses and a black button-down shit with a black jacket.
Bryant led the Lakers to a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz in his 1,346 game, setting off a party in the home of purple and gold with a showing that no one could’ve imagined, and it felt like a playoff atmosphere, as the fans and celebrities treated the most perfect farewell game as if the Lakers were in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He had delivered the most unbelievable ending to his remarkable career, leaving L.A. fans sick in their minds for one last time. He was putting on a show that ended so perfectly and fittingly. And now, Lakers fans have one more story to tell, one so extraordinary and priceless that the memories will last eternally. He couldn’t have written anything better than this.
After seeing this, Bryant still has it in him, capable of anchoring his team with his desire to shoot, shoot, shoot, and take over a game. This was another embarrassing and down year for the Lakers, dropping a franchise-record 65 games. With nothing to lose at all, Kobe felt obligated to give the fans one last memory. For good measure, Kobe went out the way Lakers fans wanted him to go out. He was attacked unfairly, called out publicly by his critics. He was eulogized on this night, was spoken of as a demigod and watched a video tribute played before and during the game. He was greatly appreciated and fans sent their outpour of love and adoration for Bryant.
This was a franchise that desperately waited for a storybook ending. It has been hard for Lakers fans to muster enthusiasm in a city where folks watched their pro basketball team fall into a dark pit of mediocrity. For all the talk about Bryant’s epic fight against father time, he wasn’t certain that his battered body could withstand a significant amount of playing time, but for one last time, he was able to give his best effort, posting a season-high 42 minutes. The night certainly didn’t start out good, but after missing his first five shots of the game, he scored at will in the fourth. There was nothing crazier — and, incredibly, more enjoyable — than watching Bryant shoot the ball efficiently in the fourth quarter. This was him at his finest. This was the clutch performer, the scoring assassin we are knew too well, notoriously known for his fantastic finishes, heroics, buzzer-beating shots and total domination in the final quarter. He went 8-for-16 in the fourth quarter and 15-for-30 in the second half.
While he may have hogged the ball and taken way too many shots, becoming the first player since Rick Barry in February 1967 to attempt at least 50 shots in a game, Bryant entertained and numbed fans who spent thousands for tickets and invested their evening in seeing him stun a city for one final time in his well-accomplished career. He attempted 58.8 percent of his team’s 85 shots, the highest percentage of shots that he has taken in a game ever, even more than his 66.3 percent he had when he scored 81 points.
This is a finale they will talk about for a long time. It would be inconsiderate, not to mention insulting, if the Lakers don’t hang his jersey from the rafters in Staples Center and don’t unveil a statue of him in the plaza outside. The guy is still globally the biggest superstar, and either we’ve respected his game or dissed his game, simply because of his selfishness, ego and self-serving personality or his rape case in Colorado that was dismissed. The guy is still the heart and soul of the city, and either we’ve hated him or loved him, simply because of his work ethic, commitment, grit, brilliance and clutch performances.
He’s either booed or showered with “MVP!” chants. He’s jeered at or cheered on by fans in any other city. But, in his final game, at home, he received universal respect as he fueled the crowd. This was what we all anticipated to see from a player everybody wanted to celebrate. It was at least classy and generous of Shaquille O’Neal, who was sitting courtside, to attend Bryant’s special night and enjoy a grand finale. The feud between him and Bryant has been diffused, and whether Kobe forced Lakers ownership to choose between him and Shaq, fans have moved on, realizing that two championships without the big man was a cure to all ills.
Bryant’s farewell tour was one of the most monumental in sports history, and it was because so many people showed their appreciation for one of the game’s all-time greats. For one last time, they wanted to see him shoot, even his former teammates who were in Staples Center to say goodbye. He kept shooting, and once he hit 50 points, fans started cheering for him to get to 60 by the time it was all said and done.
There’s no escaping the disappointment and shortcomings this season, but it was perfectly the happiest ending.