Exit Stratosphere — Kobe Bryant’s last game ever is the best last hurrah of all time, as he scores SIXTY points and hits the game-winning shot in the Lakers’ victory over Utah
Truly an “Exit: Stage Right Stuff.” The people who paid thousands of dollars to see Kobe Bryant’s last game actually got their money’s worth. At Staples Center on Wednesday night, the Black Mamba did not disappoint, although at first it really looked like he was going to. Kobe missed his first five shots, and the Lakers played atrociously, failing to score for about the first 5 minutes. Then Kobe made a couple of good defensive plays, and it finally got him over his last-game jitters.
Settling down quickly, Kobe ended the first quarter with 15 points. Phophetically, I announced: “He’s on pace to score 60!” And that’s exactly what he did. In the fourth quarter, with the Lakers trailing Utah, Kobe really turned it up a notch. He scored 23 in the final stanza, including 15 straight Laker points, and 15 of their last 17. The Lakers were down by 9 with under 4 minutes to go, but the best closer in Basketball History proceeded to cement that exact legacy. He brought them all the way back — against a team that beat them all 3 times this season by an average of 29 points (and 1 time by 50), including a lead-taking jumper with 31 seconds left. His two free throws iced it, giving him a remarkable 60 points for the night — the highest output for ANYONE this entire season.
The unforgettable finale caps a career that brought immense joy to Laker fans, and to basketball fans around the globe. Kobe played for ONLY the Lakers, for TWENTY years. He was the MVP, the Finals MVP, an 18-time all-star, and a 5-Time NBA Champion. He also scored 81 in a game (2nd most of all time to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100), and 50 in 4 straight games.
And I won’t argue that he was the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time), because I can’t say that he was better than Michael Jordan, or Wilt, Magic, Kareem, Bill Russell, or even LeBron James IN THEIR PRIMES. But Kobe gets the credit for longevity, and for staying with ONE team in an era where that is so rare, and for being the best CLUTCH shooter ever. That’s why he is the “Ultimate Closer,” who has now producer the best career-closer of all time. The only thing that comes close is Magic Johnson’s magical performance in his final All-Star game.
I know a lot of people hate Kobe, and think he is a ball hog, and a bad teammate (and something else much, much worse). I disagree. I think he did not have the most mature attitude, and had a mean streak, and may have been difficult to co-exist with, however, I feel like no one ever worked harder on their game, or took this job as seriously, or wanted to win this bad. I also think his mean streak gave him that game-face scowl that served him so well when it was time to buckle down. No one have ever won as many games with miraculous plays in crunch time. If you were willing to work your ass off, your game WAS improved by playing with Kobe. And by the way, I didn’t find his “other accuser” credible or convincing.
The bottom line is — I was a Laker season ticket holder at the Forum and at the Staples Center, including for the 3-peat, and Kobe made that extravagant expense worthwhile. He made the Lakers Champions again, extending the dynasty as long as he could. He always left everything out there on the court, and I am grateful that he did it for the Lakers and no one else.