Kobe Bryant just played the best farewell game the NBA has ever seen. No player had ever scored 50 points in their final NBA game. Bryant just scored 60, single-handedly powering the Lakers to a 101-96 win over the Jazz.
He was everything fans loved -- and hated -- about Kobe Bryant. He was the perfectly practiced scorer, scoring more points than anybody scored in the NBA this season. He did it with a billion finely tuned moves -- stepbacks, threes, finishes at the rim, the whole arsenal we've seen for the past 20 years.
He was the unfazeable master of the clutch, scoring 15 points in the game's final 3:04 as the Lakers rallied back from a 96-84 deficit to beat Utah.
He was the overzealous ballhog who refused to pass. He had the greenest light in recent NBA history, setting an NBA record with a 60.5% usage rate, the highest ever recorded in an NBA game. He took 50 shots, the most in an NBA game in over 30 years. Yes, he even took more shots than he himself has ever taken.
He was an unrelenting competitor. After starting 0-for-4, he finished with 60 points. The plan was for Kobe to play 36 minutes, but he just would not come out of the game, playing for the final half-hour, finishing with 42 minutes played. (He'll rest when he's retired.)
He was the pride of Los Angeles, his name booming throughout a star-studded Staples Center -- and even Dodger Stadium! -- all night long.
He was the legacy-obsessed walking brand, taking the microphone, giving a speech, yelling MAMBA OUT and dropping the mic.
I'll be honest: I was cynical of the hype surrounding Kobe's final game. I've always had a spot in my heart for Kobe, and that's why I tried to watch him as little as possible this year. I will remember Kobe as a transcendent player and a sociopath. This year he was an airball machine with a smile on his face. Almost all players fall off late in their careers, but few were allowed to continue struggling on a major scale the way Kobe was this season.
I tried to avoid watching Kobe this year, for Kobe's sake. The Lakers went 17-65 this season, one of the worst records in the NBA and the worst in Lakers history.
But on this night, that didn't matter. The complete irrelevance of this game somehow made it better: With nothing at stake, there was nothing to do but let Kobe have the sendoff of his dreams. If your first thought after the game was to bring up the Lakers' record, you need to be retaught how to enjoy sports again.
Kobe's jaw was jutted, Kobe's shots were falling, and Kobe was a winner. He was everything Kobe was supposed to be, and we were lucky to see it one last time.
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