On April 13, 2016 The Utah Jazz played the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles for the final game of the season. It was also Kobe Bryant’s final game as a Laker and and NBA player.
Many sports figures have retired after storied careers, with big celebrations surrounding their final games. John Elway when he retired from playing for the Denver Broncos. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he retired from the Los Angeles Lakers had a retirement tour in his last season.
Derek Jeter had his farewell tour with the Yankees, getting tributes from teams and fans around the Major League parks where he played in his final season. Gatorade and Nike made congratulatory TV ads for Jeter that were so evocative viewers wept watching them. Both have gone viral on YouTube. In the Nike ad, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson and his fiancé, Jeanie Buss were featured, tipping their hat to Jeter.
In his final game at Yankee Stadium, Jeter got the game-winning hit — one heck of an exclamation point on his career, one of the few players in any sport to spend his entire time in the Big Leagues, the pros, with one team.
If Kobe Bryant is to be compared to any other athlete playing a final year in his or her career, it would be to Derek Jeter.
Both had critics who said they stayed too long in their sports. Both had fans and haters around their respective leagues. And when it came to that final season for both, it appeared everyone was either a fan or an opposing team’s fan tipping their hats to one of the greats.
That was the final season for Kobe Bryant. Every arena where he played this season the fans and teams gave him a farewell celebration and Bryant took it all in graciously.
One thing about Kobe Bryant: he has a very comfortable self-awareness. He knows who he is and what he brings to the game. He isn’t afraid or ashamed to talk about it. Throughout this past season his post-game press conferences featured moments of what he was trying to teach his young team, through the 65 losses and 17 wins.
Kobe Bryant was a starter, but he was also a role player; that of being a role model to the young talent that will be the future core of the Lakers.
Some people thought that he was being arrogant, but the truth of it is he knew exactly what his role would be in this final year. It wasn’t just to take a victory lap around the NBA, it was to be as a teacher to the young players who had great flashes of brilliance, with incredibly crushing lapses on the floor that led to some very humiliating losses.
He rarely let his frustration show in the post-game press conferences, but he often spoke frankly about how his team not only succeeded, but how it failed.
There’s no question he is one of the greatest Lakers to ever wear the uniform and one of the great NBA players. How lucky NBA fans were when his career overlapped that of Michael Jordan. The debates now are: where does Kobe land on the list of great Lakers and NBA players? Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal said he is the greatest Laker of all time. Kobe disputed that, saying Johnson is the greatest Laker.
Like Derek Jeter before him, Kobe Bryant went out with a bang. In his final game at Staples Center Wednesday night, the Lakers organization put on a show to honor Bryant. They had people from around the league, celebrities and finally his family send their best wishes in videos that were flashed on the Jumbotron screen.
Once the game started, Kobe laid an egg for the first five minutes. But then the Old Kobe returned. By the end of the first half he had 22 points. By the end of the third quarter people were wondering if he could score 50 again. In the fourth quarter the TV announcers were giddy at the prospect of Kobe Bryant getting 60 points — and winning the game. His jumper with 31 seconds left on the clock was the 62nd time he scored a go-head basket in a game.
With 14 seconds left in the game Bryant made his 59th and 60th points on free throws. And he still wasn’t finished. With four seconds left Kobe passed to Jordan Clarkson who made a spectacular dunk to ignite the crowd and his team one more time. It was the sixth time Bryant scored 60 or more points in a game.
Many people believe Clarkson will be the next Lakers “go to” man — the next Kobe Bryant. Clarkson doesn’t believe he can be the next Kobe, but he had a very good season and improves with every game.
But this game was all about Kobe Bryant, not his young teammates. They just kept feeding him the ball and he kept scoring — and playing defense. Besides scoring 60 points, he had one block, one steal and four defensive rebounds.
This is odd for me to write because I’m a Milwaukee Bucks fan. One of the Lakers’ wins this season was against the Bucks at Staples Center. They also lost to the Bucks, in Milwaukee.
Doesn’t matter though because, like Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest in his sport, at least in the past 20 seasons. You didn’t have to be a Yankee fan to appreciate Derek Jeter and you don’t have to be a Laker fan to appreciate Kobe Bryant.
Congratulations Kobe Bryant on your career. You had some rough spots on and off the field over the years, but you never lost your focus on the prize. Even in his final post-game press conference, which we have in one of Claudia’s videos, Bryant said the perfect ending would have been a championship. Yeah well, scoring 60 points (the most of any career-ending games) and winning the game is a pretty good ending too and Kobe said it felt good to go out and put on a show.
That you did Kobe, that you did.
Watch the two videos by Claudia Gestro, and hear more from Kobe and coach Byron Scott. as well as Magic Johnson, Jack Nicholson and David Beckham.
Videos and photos by Claudia Gestro, unless otherwise noted.
Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the elected government officials and business were so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that.