Kobe Bryant never ceases to amaze. What we all knew would be an emotional night in Los Angeles turned into something greater than we'd ever have the audacity to dream of. Kobe had just 48 minutes left to write the final sentences of his career and became Ernest Hemingway with a basketball as his pen and the hardwood as his medium. Somehow, someway, he found the perfect conclusion and dropped a game-winning period at the end of it.
Words can hardly encapsulate the history that unfolded in Staples Center Wednesday night, though. The Los Angeles Lakers franchise did a tremendous job setting the table with tribute videos, old faces and a gripping embrace between Magic Johnson and Kobe. The Magic Man is long removed from his playing days, but he's still very much an ambassador of the purple and gold. Two titans came together in one of the most high-profile nights in franchise history, but what happened once the pageantry passed is where the night truly began.
Bryant started the game looking dangerously like Game-7-of-the-2010-NBA-Finals Kobe, struggling to make a shot now that he had finally clawed his way to the stage. A sequence that saw him score 15 points over a five-minute span late in the first turned the game upside down after starting the night 0-for-5 from the field. It was a driving and-one layup that felt the turning point, immediately bringing back memories of the uber-athletic kid out of Lower Merion. He attacked at just the right angle to create the space needed to finish a tough shot in the paint while absorbing contact, as if the spirit of No. 8 was whispering in his ear. Do this for me, one last time.
So he did it, and with the flick of his wrist and what burst he had left in his legs, it was go time:
What happened from there was exactly why we've loved watching Kobe Bryant over these last two decades. He picked the defense apart using angles and footwork:
He hit a few of his patented jumpers:
He tossed one behind-the-back pass for an amazing sequence that might be forgotten in the mix of this incredible game, but shouldn't be:
And he put up shot after shot after shot, and on a night like this it's what we came to see. Kobe Bryant gave everything he had left, spilling his ink across a custom-branded court built to honor the King of Los Angeles. He gave it the royal treatment throughout his final game. the emperor syncing into his last groove.
As the points began stacking it became increasingly difficult to ignore the creeping voice wondering what could possibly come next. He's made it to 20, but can he reach 30? Is there any way he Kobe could stretch this scoring night out to 40? 50 points would be an incredible achievement, if he could get there. And finally, as the last minutes in Kobe's career ticked away, there was one question left to ponder: Can he hit 60, and seal the game for the Lakers.
Of course. He's Kobe Bean Bryant:
There are few things more fitting for Kobe Bryant to end his career on than a 60-point performance of a lifetime and a victory. It was all there for him Wednesday night, as if the camera crews that have been following his every step throughout the Farewell Tour had scripted the outcome of the game and knew what was coming. Sure, it's not a championship ring and pina coladas to celebrate one week later, but this had to be the next best thing.
The crowd roared with each made shot, completely captured in a defining moment in Kobe's 20-year career and NBA history. Two free-throws and a substitution later, it was time to put a bow on what became a flawless gift to the dedicated legion of fans that were glued to this bittersweet farewell. Bryant brought in the young core for one last embrace together, the past of the Lakers making way for what they hope is the future. This was love:
Then it was time to check in with a family that proudly watched him put on one last show for them... :
... and we got this adorable moment with his daughter:
What more can you say on a night like this? 20 years in the making, Kobe Bryant granted everyone one last wish. The performance of a lifetime, and two final words before walking off the court: