As Bryant was announced for the final time on April 13, 2016, a bittersweet moment was created, that will not only be remembered by Bryant and and his family, but all fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and basketball across the globe.
I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing the finale of my lifelong favorite player’s career in person.
Arriving hours before the game, in order to get the full experience of “Mamba Day.” I got the chance to send a final message to Bryant on a oversized card signed by thousands of fans, take photos of the five championship trophies that he helped bring to the city, as well as view the countless amount of #ThankYouKobe tributes placed all around Staples Center for the future hall-of-famer.
The whole city of Los Angeles seemed to be outside of the arena prior to the game, enjoying themselves in celebration of the extraordinary career of the Mamba.
When entering the game, fans were given a book made in tribute to Kobe, showing photos of his past and present. Then, upon taking their seats, the spectators would also be gifted with a custom made Nike shirt in honor of Bryant.
Following ovations from the crowd during the pregame warmups, well-known musician and Lakers fan, Flea, came out to play the Star Spangled Banner on his bass guitar, an experience that one must see in person to get the full effect of his talents on the instrument.
When the greatest player to ever wear the purple and gold colors of the Lakers, Bryant, was announced for the final time in his illustrious 20-year career, Staples Center erupted in cheer and applause, while all basketball fans around the world prepared to witness the true ending of an era.
Bryant, the lone remaining active NBA player of his 1996 draft class, has given his all to the Los Angeles Lakers franchise for the past 20 years, and his final game proved to be no different.
In his last career game, Bryant went out the only way that the Mamba could, which was by scoring a season-high 60 points in a win over the Utah Jazz.
Witnessing Kobe put on the greatest finale in sports history in front of the over eighteen-thousand fans in attendance, including former teammates, Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Robert Horry, and more, was a truly an unforgettable experience.
Even some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities couldn’t miss the Mamba’s farewell. Entertainment stars from legendary hip-hop artist, Jay Z, to popular comedian, George Lopez, to one of the Lakers’ most loyal fans, famed actor, Jack Nicholson all attended on Wednesday night.
Those who were unable to attend the game sent a pre-recorded final thank you message to Bryant, which would be played on the big screen. While the messages of rappers Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg would be rightfully cheered, the likes of Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian would unfortunately be booed heavily by the packed arena.
In addition to these thank you messages by the celebrities, final farewell videos would also be played to the Staples Center crowd during timeouts and other breaks in the action by fellow NBA stars, including Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, as well as plenty of others from around the league.
After a special pregame introduction by Lakers icon, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and acclaimed announcer, Lawrence Tanter, Bryant would begin the game by missing his first five shots from the field. While the game may have looked ugly to begin, the Mamba would soon change this by blocking the shot attempt of Utah’s Trevor Booker, which then led to Bryant’s first bucket on the other end.
Once Bryant got his first two points, it was off to the races for him, and everyone who had watched him over the many years knew it. He would go on to make his next four consecutive shot attempts, ending the night with a total of 22-50 on field goals and 60 points.
This was Bryant’s first game with 50 or more points since 2009 and his fifth highest scoring game of his incredible career. Only Kobe would be one to make history in his final career game, as he became the oldest player to ever score 50 points in an NBA matchup.
Any basketball fan who watched Kobe throughout his career knew that he would make this night one of his most memorable, but I highly doubt that anyone could have predicted the game that Bryant delivered.
Kobe not only scored 60 points, but he also made the clutch shots that he had been making all of his life in the fourth quarter that allowed a Los Angeles victory, producing 23 of his 60 points in the final quarter of his career. After making the go-ahead basket and free-throws to seal the win in a final score of 101-96, the Staples Center was as loud as ever. Bryant was then substituted out of the game for the final time in history, as he walked off to a standing ovation from the Staples Center audience, chanting “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!”
When Kobe addressed the capacity crowd following the game, he thanked them for their continual support, while he also reflected on the past 20 years of his life, in which he had dedicated himself as much as possible to the game and city that he loved. At the end of his farewell to all of his fans around the world, he closed his message with two simple, yet powerful words.