At the 5:38 mark of the 3rd quarter of his final NBA game, Kobe Bryant finally reached 30 points, hitting his 11th shot of 29 taken. The game was over 62% complete and Kobe was shooting 38% from the field. How’s that for symmetry?
For the final 17 minutes of the game, Kobe went 11 for 21 from the field, and ended up scoring or assisting (mostly scoring) on his team’s final 17 points as a pitiful Laker team managed to snag a victory over an young, upstart but deflated Utah team that knew it had been eliminated from the playoffs. 52% from the field isn’t remarkable under normal conditions, but these were obviously abnormal conditions. This was an NBA-old man in his last hurrah going out with the only franchise he’s ever played for, even though he once wanted and tried to leave. An infamously difficult teammate receiving total support from his teammates so that he could put on a wildly entertaining display of the antithesis of team-ball. It was an incredible spectacle; Kobe took enough shots to start a war, or at least star in a classic John Woo flick, and everyone in the building not affiliated with the Utah Jazz loved it.
Meanwhile, north of Los Angeles, Golden State was coasting to their record-setting 73rd win. By any standard it’s a more historic, more meaningful accomplishment, but it lacked the must-see drama of Kobe Bryant’s insane display. Golden State’s victory felt inevitable even before tip-off; Kobe’s 50-for-60 was magnetic, manufactured magnificence, much like Wilt’s 100, David Thompson’s 73, David Robinson’s 71 and George Gervin’s 63. This was even more captivating, however, because this was the end of the road for a legendary player’s career. And in the end it turned into a microcosm for said career.
50-for-60 is the appropriate way for Kobe to leave the game. Exiting with a championship in a reduced role a la Peyton Manning or David Robinson somehow wouldn’t have suited him the way that this did. Firing shots heedless of how many he had taken and missed already, somehow turning a woeful shooting night into a decent shooting night overall, and a flat out clutch shooting night down the stretch, getting the go-ahead bucket in the final minute of the game (with a small assist from the most illegal screen you’ll ever see, not that anyone should really care about that). That’s the Kobe Bryant version of a “storybook ending.”
It was the best of Kobe. It was the worst of Kobe. It was perfect.