When I woke up and left for work on Wednesday morning, something felt undeniably different about the world. I’m not sure if it was the way the birds were chatting or the way the people at work were chirping, but there was definitely an aura in the air.
I drove to work and spent the next eight hours thinking about what was about to transpire tonight. And to be honest it chilled me to my core contemplating how different the world was about to become. The thrill of watching sports might dwindle, the joy of rooting for a beloved franchise might suffer, even the taste of food might never be the same.
In the back of my mind, I knew that everything about April 13th, 2016 was special, and in a way it gave me the much-needed strength to toil through the day in anticipation of a life-changing evening.
*Note that I say life-changing, because Kobe’s last game is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year, a night that we say goodbye to a player that has represented and been the face of the National Basketball Association for most of my life. Though there are players to bridge the gap, many who have grown up watching Kobe and the Lakers will see the league differently after tonight.
Kobe Bryant, like superstars like Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning, has long held the responsibility of starring for his league night-in and night-out. Even at the twilight of his career, the shooting guard is capable of exploding for 30+ points despite his team’s struggles.
Kobe stands out more, though, because of the simple fact that people continue to say his name while casually shooting crumpled up papers at trash bins. Dave Chapelle’s impact notwithstanding, I challenge you to find any other thriving day-to-day activity that makes use of a pro athlete’s moniker — aside from Tebowing, which is beyond dead and buried.
And so I arrived at Staples Center Wednesday night fully aware that something special was in the works, something beyond all the gallantry and ceremony. The stage had been set for one final barrage, and Kobe came through.
He scored 15 in the first quarter, with the offense running entirely through him. He gradually piled on more and more shots — eventually finishing with 50, which by all ordinary accounts would seem like obnoxious ball hogging. But this was Kobe’s night, and he had free reign to do pretty much whatever the fuck he wanted.
As the night progressed, we fell further behind the Jazz thanks to pitiful defense. But we didn’t fold. And steadily,
Kobe kept adding to his point total, basket by basket. But every time the whistle blew, we lost even more of the fading time left in Kobe’s career, and we learned to cringe whenever we heard that fortuitous tweet.
Late in the fourth, most of the crowd knew that 40 was within reach. And when that milestone came and went, and Utah’s lead dwindled, we started cheering for 50.
And when that milestone also came and went, we realized the possibility of actually winning the game, one last W in the books for a player who was reaching for the season-high scoring mark for the season in his finale.
We were down by one with a minute left when Kobe came up clutch again, burying the go-ahead basket from just to the left of the top of the key. And after free throws in the final minute and a transition dunk from Jordan Clarkson, the comeback was complete, and Kobe had poured in 60 points — on a “respectable” 22-of-50 shooting.
At the end of regulation he had me believing that the game could go on forever. And secretly I was hoping that the Jazz came back to tie it if only to give us five more minutes with Kobe. But they didn’t, and now I’m left cataloging the details of a glorious night.
It couldn’t have been a better send-off for the best scorer the game has seen in twenty years. Kobe finished the game, and his career, on his own terms. And, boy, what wonderful terms they were.
Wednesday night was special in many ways, but despite the heroics it certainly feels like something is missing a day later. His performance was legendary, fitting for the player and personality he has always been.
And in the same way that I shed tears in 2001 when I watched Tony Gwynn play his final game, I was choked up multiple times Wednesday night when it was made unmistakably clear that this night would bookend my favorite basketball player’s career, and we will never seem his lace up his sneakers or bury a fadeaway jumper again.
Father Time won this round, and Kobe Bryant is now gone. But I, for one, am not mourning his departure. We ought to be celebrating his finale, because Kobe earned it. He did everything for the fans, and in lauding him we return an incalculable favor.
Thank you, Kobe. The game won’t be the same without you.