Last Wednesday night (or Thursday morning for those of us in this hemisphere) was possibly one of the most memorable nights in all of basketball history. The Golden State Warriors, led by the transcendent shooting of point guard Steph Curry, broke the Chicago Bulls’ regular season record to win 73 out of a possible 82 games in an NBA season. With a record of 73-9, they didn’t just create a record for basketball historians to cite in the future, but also fundamentally changed presumptions of how the game of basketball should be played. All the old conventions of big men playing inside being a big determining factor in the eventual winning teams were torn apart by this small ball playing, long distance shooting team. At the head of the team was also a completely new age basketball superstar in Steph Curry, focusing more on the downtown-3 as opposed to the traditional acrobatic finish at the rim. Amazingly, however, almost no one gave a shit at the time.
Where was everyone at during possibly one of the most pivotal moments in basketball history? They were all watching Kobe drop 60 in the final NBA game of his life. The retirement of Vino did not disappoint in any way. Kobe Bryant has always had a tremendous sense of the occasion. For almost 2 decades, the black mamba has always struck at the right time. The timing of his debut and subsequent rise to stardom is a fine example of this almost supernatural talent. Coming in the void left by Michael Jordan leaving the game (in the aftermath of the great second retirement), Kobe’s breakout year propelled him into the limelight amongst a host of young talented guards touted as the successors to Jordan’s throne. The dominant Lakers of the early 2000s, led by him and the extraordinary Shaquille O’Neal under the guidance of legendary coach Phil Jackson swept the league, gaining a three-peat by winning championships in 200, 2001 and 2002. This swiftly made him into the global icon which he is and firmly established him as the best shooting guard in the league. Subsequent performances in his career, including those which would bring him 2 more titles after the departure of Shaq, with players such as Pau Gasol elevated him to the highest echelon of basketball players and have almost completely confirmed a future hall of fame place for the black mamba.
There are a multitude of highlights which can be pointed to over the course of Kobe’s career. From his tremendous rookie all-star weekend in 1997 (where he not only scored the highest number of points from either side in the rookie game but also won the slam dunk contest) to his amazing 81 point haul against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, Kobe has provided some of the greatest moments in the history of the NBA. His amazing alley-oop pass to Shaq in the 2000 Western conference finals to win the series 4-3 immediately springs to mind. His ridiculous 3 point buzzer beater from downtown while being double teamed against the Heat in 2009 to win the game also immediately stands out. His last game also ended up being part of the highlight reel of his career. Scoring 60 points (the highest number of points scored by an individual player this season), he finished his career in style.
In hindsight, the game itself felt like a mixture of a storybook ending and a one man all-star game. The Lakers wiped out a Jazz lead of 15 points in the final quarter with a barrage of shots dropping from Kobe himself. Scoring a tremendous 23 points in final quarter, Kobe completed a night of solo offence against the Jazz to win the last game of his career. It displayed the best of Kobe and the worst of Kobe. The better parts of Kobe were his determined drives to the rim, deadly mid-range fadeaway and his near-mystical ability to hit clutch 3-pointers. The other parts of Kobe were similarly displayed in his endless pump-fakes and his tremendous selfishness (attempting 50 shots over the course of the game, the most since 1983). It was therefore amazingly ironic that the player who was labelled the most selfish player in the NBA ended his career with an assist to teammate Russell D’Angelo.