Mamba, out. These were the last words that Kobe Bryant spoke to the sell-out crowd after his last night of work. He stood at center court before his people, smiling like a kid going to Disneyland for the first time. The Staples Center crowd had just witnessed one of the greatest performances in the history of the NBA. 60 points in your last game. Throughout the game, on TV and at the game, we got to watch a montage of the best Kobe moments over his career. Little did we know that we were gonna see one more amazing performance, arguably his best. This Laker club was not a good team. A team that had only won 17 games the entire year. But, there they were, on the court, one last time, trying to give the Mamba a nice farewell. Check.
Kobe is one of the most divisive players to ever put on a jersey. His will and desire to win would not always present itself in a mature fashion, causing some to turn their backs on Bryant. I understand that. If he wasn’t a Laker, I would hate him also. Other players in the league, even on his own team hated him. He’s made more than a few players question their game. There is no defending bad behavior. However, I understand it with this man or I should say, with this type of man. There are very few people in this world that have kind of mindset that he has. The only others I know of are Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Driven on steroids. The desire to be the best overrides everything else. EVERYTHING. You have to put out 100% or suffer the consequences.
Kobe had all the tools of a Hall of Famer. His workouts and work ethic are Herculean. Consider this: He’s been on the All- NBA defensive team multiple times, All-NBA 15 times, an All-Star for 18 years, and 5 championships. He was 17 when he was drafted. He’s been a Laker for 20 years. More than half his life in one uniform. An outstanding career.
And what better way to exit stage left than by dropping 60 points in a come from behind win. That’s right, no misprint, 60 freakin’ points. Watching him score 23 points in his final quarter of basketball was surreal. You could feel the crowd including myself using all of our Jedi mind tricks, forcing the ball to go in. And it did. Once he passed 40, we all wanted him to do was score 50. When he passed that, did we dare think he could get to 60? With every shot, every 3-pointer, every free throw, the crowd got louder and louder. It wasn’t only about the Kobe’s point total, the Lakers were in the game, coming back from a double-digit lead. This is what Kobe was born to do. He hit 2 three-point bombs in the closing minutes, hit the winning shot with a 16-foot jumper and finished it up with 2 free throws. By that time every Kobe fan, every Laker fan watching, at the game or not, was shouting at the top of their lungs, treasuring what we just saw. How many times had we seen that over the years? The delight, the joy, the sheer ecstasy of the moment. My nickname for Kobe was the Assassin. He killed teams. He ripped out their hearts and stomped on them. And he did it one last time. Utah went home heartless.
The game ended and I was numb. I hadn’t planned on this. I didn’t have time to prepare. I expected Kobe to play 20 minutes and the Lakers getting blown out. Maybe a few tears. And even though this game didn’t mean anything in the standings, it meant everything to Kobe fans. Thank you, Mamba. For the game, for the championships, but most of all for the persistence to be great, to be the best. You’ve taught a generation what it takes to reach goals that seem unattainable. Thank you for this one last memory, it was amazing. 60 points at the age of 37. Mamba, out.