By Ryan Fitzgerald – Co-Editor-in-Chief
In my “The end of an era” column from December’s issue of the Chronicle, I wrote about sports stars announcing retirement in recent years that our generation of fans grew up following. One of the athletes I mentioned was Kobe Bryant. Well the time came, and Kobe played the last game of his 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers on the night of April 13th. I said in my December column, “Seeing [athletes] reach their end, seeing that magical flair they used to play with fade away is strange and sad.” Well, Kobe may not have shown that flair throughout this season, but his final game was nothing but sad.
Kobe didn’t register an amazing season and he wasn’t expected to. He averaged under 30 minutes per game, and under 20 points per game for the first time since 1998, (excluding the 2013-14 season when he was out with an injury). Number 24 showed flashes of athletic brilliance that he’s graced basketball fans with his entire career.
But he showed his age and injury too. There were games where he looked like the 37-year-old veteran he is, playing a game built for younger, faster guys who haven’t had multiple sprained ankles, a left knee fracture, torn Achilles tendon, right knee surgery (it goes on). After games pictures surfaced of Kobe with huge bags of ice wrapped around his knees.
Kobe played his final game on a Lakers team that is young, and after off-the-court issues, naive. They’re in a rebuilding phase. We knew Los Angeles would not be making an appearance in this year’s playoffs, and so did Kobe. So for the first time, Kobe actually took a step back from the game and soaked it all in: he wasn’t playing as fiercely as he had in previous years.
I think it had to bother him, at least a little bit that he couldn’t compete for a title in his final season. But he seemed content all year. I guess winning five championships will do that to a person.
Each team rolled out the red carpet for Kobe, and let him truly enjoy his final season. He even received a standing ovation in Boston after his final game in TD Garden. He signed a pair of shoes before or after most games and gave them to the opposing team’s best player. It seemed like a soft close to his career.
But the night of April 13th was different from the entire season. It was magical. Kobe scored 60 points. 60.
Granted, he hoisted 50 shots during the game, but he could have took 100 and I would have been fine with it. Arguably the greatest player of our generation not only scored 60, but he single-handedly won the game for the Lakers. It was vintage Black Mamba.
He put on a show for the countless celebrities and fans in attendance who paid over $25,000 to sit courtside, and over $700 for “nosebleed” seats. It may seem ridiculous for someone to pay that amount of money for one game, but I guarantee you that every single one of those people who paid for those seats will say it was worth it.
It literally felt like I was watching a movie and not a basketball game. My roommates and I sat in amazement, chills ran down my spine when he started hitting shot after shot.
Kobe’s first and last points of his career came at the free throw line. As he stood there, with the crowd on their feet, waiting for him to shoot, Kobe let out a huge sigh. It was as if every minute, victory, loss, point, championship, pressure of his career was released in that sigh. He let it go, scored his 60th point of the game, 33,643rd point of his career, and walked out for the final time. Just Kobe being Kobe.