Gone but never forgotten. NBA icon Kobe Bryant who died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41 earlier this year left a legacy that influenced not only his legion of fans across the globe but also basketball players and other sportsmen.
Bryant joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 when he was just 17-years-old and spent 20 years with the team, the longest reign at one team for an NBA player. And naturally, it was an emotional moment for him while playing his final game for the side during the 2015-’16 season.
It is very rare that we witness athletes getting a farewell they deserve but for Bryant, it was a fitting one. He put on a show with a stellar performance on April 13, 2016 at the Staples Center. That game, he scored a stupendous total of 60 points, alongside scoring the winning shot to ensure a memorable end to his career, leading the Lakers to a 101-96 victory over Utah Jazz.
During his career spanning 20 years with the Lakers, there were many peaks that he scaled. From his 81-point score against the Toronto Raptors, the second-highest individual score in NBA history, to leading the franchise to five NBA crowns. And his performances was up there with the best-ever witnessed in the league’s history, as Bryant rolled back the years in a script that was similar to a Hollywood movie.
The result of the game did not have any relevance with both Lakers and Jazz already out of the playoff race. That season was personally one to forget for the Lakers where they had finished last in the Western Conference table, securing just 17 wins. They had finished second-last the year before.
Black Mamba runs the show
It wasn’t the brightest of starts for Bryant. It took a while for him to get going as he missed his first five shots but he later scored five in a row, finishing the first quarter by racking up 15 points out of 19 the Lakers had scored.
Bryant notched seven points in the second quarter, ending the first half with 22 points, only converting 35% of his shots. The Lakers trailed by 57-42 and a defeat seemed like the only outcome.
Bryant, however, had other plans. In the third quarter alone, he crossed the 30-point mark, managing to reduce his side’s deficit.
Lakers stage a comeback
The 37-year-old turned the game on its head in the fourth quarter, scoring 23 points, including 17 straight points. His teammates kept giving him the ball and Bryant was unstoppable, racking up points with ease as 18,997 spectators at the Staples Center watched in bewilderment.
With less than a minute remaining on the clock, Bryant sank a 26-foot three-pointer, bringing his team closer to an improbable comeback. That was his last three-pointer. With less than 30 seconds more to go, he produced another moment of magic, scoring a two-pointer to hand Lakers a 97-96 lead.
Bryant left the game with 4.1 seconds remaining, being embraced on the sidelines by his teammates and coaches. But by then, the outcome of the game had already been decided. Lakers staged a comeback for the ages with a 101-96 win, inspired by one man. Bryant outscored the Jazz Utah team (21) in the fourth quarter all by himself.
During the 42 minutes Bryant played, the veteran attempted a career-high of 50 shots. This was the fifth highest-scoring game of his NBA career. He also became the oldest player to score 50 points in an NBA match and this was the first time he achieved the feat since February 2009.
His farewell speech
Bryant thanked his family, teammates and supporters as he addressed the crowd at the Staples centre. He joked that his teammates had told him not to pass the ball in his final game, something he was advised against throughout his career.
“I grew up a die-hard Lakers fan,” he said. “I knew everything about every player that has played here. So to be drafted and then traded to this organisation and to spend 20 years here, you can’t write something better than this.
“It is not about the championships, it is about the down years. We did it the right way, we got our championships, all I can do is thank you guys, thank you guys for all the support, thank you guys for the motivation, thank you guys for the inspiration.”
Watch Bryant’s final NBA game here: