SB Nation

Harrison Faigen | April 14, 2016

Kobe Bryant's final season, in his own words

Storytime with Kobe was a highlight of his final season.

Storytime with Kobe was a highlight of his final season.

One of the best parts of Kobe Bryant's final season with the Los Angeles Lakers was his postgame media availability. Kobe had good games, and he had bad games, but one thing that fans could consistently count on was that Bryant would say something quotable after nearly every game he played in.

Kobe Bryant didn't officially announce that he was retiring until releasing a poem on the Player's Tribune addressed to the game of basketball on November 29th, but it was easy to tell this would be his last season by observing his lovable "old man Kobe" persona and how open he was with the media.

Compiled here is a sort-of oral history of Bryant's last season, featuring some of the best and most memorable quotes from after each game. Lakers fans and the NBA will miss Kobe most for his what he did on the floor, but there will never be another athlete to speak his mind in the same sort of "Kobe-isms" either:

The season began with an opening night (10/28) loss against the young Minnesota Timberwolves, in which Bryant scored 24 points but only made eight of his 24 shots:

"That timing will come back... I haven't played in a minute."

If timing was really Bryant's only issue, it would not return entirely two nights later against the Sacramento Kings, another loss in which Bryant went 5-of-12 from the field for 13 points on the night. Defense was the larger issue, a theme of the Lakers' season overall and something Bryant noted after the loss:

"We gave up 80 points in the paint. That's a lot to give up... But they got a lot of penetration and on the ones they didn't convert, they got offensive rebounds and converted those."

Bryant's frustration with his own poor play was evident two night's later in the team's third consecutive loss, with Kobe referenced a recent ESPN ranking to describe his play after going 3-15 against the Dallas Mavericks:

"I'm the 200th best player in the league right now. I freaking suck."

The Lakers fell to 0-4 on November 3rd, and Bryant went 4-for-11 from the field as the Lakers lost by 11 to another likely lottery bound opponent in the Denver Nuggets. Kobe had some advice for concerned Lakers fans following the loss:

"Freak out. It's good. It's good for the soul."

The losing would end for one night at least, as the Lakers picked up their first victory of the season against the similarly awful Brooklyn Nets. Kobe scored 18 points on 16 shots, and fired his 17th after the game when shooting down rumors of a New York reunion with Phil Jackson, reiterating he would spend his whole career with the Lakers:

"That's Phil baiting you guys like he always does," Bryant said, shaking his head after scoring 18 points in a 104-98 Lakers win over the Nets in Brooklyn. "He's a master at it.

"How many times do I need to say it? God. I've said it so many times ... I'm here. I'm a Laker for life. I'm not playing anywhere else, no matter what. It's not going to happen. I bleed purple and gold, and that's just how it's going to be."

The Lakers followed up that back and forth between Bryant and Jackson with a close 99-95 loss to Jackson's New York Knicks in what would end up being Bryant's goodbye to the Garden, something he got nostalgic about after the game:

"To be able to come here and have the performances that I've had here in this building, I feel extremely, extremely fortunate."

Bryant sat the Lakers next two games, back-to-back losses to the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, but returned to the Lakers' lineup when the team faced the Dallas Mavericks on November 13, putting in a relatively efficient 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting in what was probably his best game of the season to that point. The Lakers still lost 82-90, but Bryant took joy in one more showdown with his fellow old-man, Dirk Nowitzki, showcasing the happier side of Bryant that fans got more of a glimpse of in 2015:

"It was just two old guys having fun."

Bryant followed up the Mavericks' loss with a near triple-double of 17 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists in 36 minutes against the Detroit Pistons two nights later to lead the Lakers to their second win of the 2015 season, but it took just about everything he had:

"I'm barely standing up. My back & my legs, it's killing me... I'm not looking forward to walking to the car. Seriously."

Kobe did not travel with the team for their game the following night in Phoenix, but returned to the floor five days later when the Lakers hosted the Toronto Raptors. Bryant fell 71 points short of his career high against the Raptors, and for some reason played 37 minutes as the Lakers dropped to 2-10. Despite the season high in minutes, Bryant felt better than he did after his 36 minutes against Detroit:

1

The Lakers hosted Portland next, and lost 107-93 as Bryant clanked (or airballed) 16 of his 22 shots. In typical Kobe fashion, he was unconcerned about the poor shooting after the game:

"I'm OK... I mean, I'm just trying to be calm about the situation and stick to the present. Stick to teaching. Tomorrow in practice, we'll go over things and get ready for the next game."

Los Angeles traveled to Oakland next to try and prevent the Golden State Warriors from making history by starting the season 16-0. Saying that they failed to do so would imply they ever had a chance, and the Lakers predictably were waxed on national TV by the defending champions in what would be the low-point in a season full of them. Bryant was hounded into a 1-of-14 shooting night so bad it led to Charles Barkley calling for him to retire and anonymous Warriors players feeling bad for one of their idols, but Bryant summed up the drubbing best after the game:

"I could have scored 80 tonight, it wouldn't have made a damn difference."

After four days off to lick their wounds. the Lakers traveled to Portland and lost 108-96. It was the final game Kobe would play in before officially announcing his retirement, and he enjoyed Blazers fans not giving him any special fanfare after receiving boos every time he touched the ball in Portland:

"I thought [the booing] was great."

But just because he was okay with getting jeered by fans did not mean he was going to put up with any guff from his fellow players, as Trail Blazers guard Luis Montero found out when Bryant let him know the rules of trash talk:

"If you weren't born when I started playing, you can't talk trash."

Bryant received the polar opposite of boos in his next game, with the Lakers hosting Pacers at Staples Center on November 29th, the day Bryant officially announced his retirement. Fans showered Bryant with love the entire game, and afterwards he sounded completely at peace with his decision to hang up his Nike's at the end of the year:

"It's a natural progression of growth & maturation... There's no sadness in that... I see the beauty in not being able to blow past defenders anymore, you know what I mean?"

That specific type of beauty was on full display when the Lakers began their eight game road trip to kick off the month of December with a 103-91 loss to the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers. Bryant missed 19 of his 26 shots, and his words about not being able to blow past defenders anymore looked downright prophetic as he launched 17 three-pointers. Bryant his his first three shots from behind the arc before missing 13 of his next 14, but he described the moment as only he could:

1

The Lakers bounced back the next night against the Washington Wizards, grabbing their third victory of the year as Bryant scored 31 points on 10-of-24 shooting to lead the Lakers to a late 108-84 victory. Bryant's performance fired up his young teammates, but the response did not make him want to consider motivating players as a full-time profession when he steps away from playing basketball:

The momentum from the victory over the Wizards did not carry over to the Lakers' next game against the Atlanta Hawks. After a forgettable 4-for-19 shooting night, Bryant memorably described what he would miss most about playing basketball:

"Aside from like the camaraderie and competition and putting puzzles together, just the basic elements of the game... The smell of the ball, the sound of the ball bouncing, the squeak of the sneakers, the little buzz of the lights that you hear in the arena when nobody's around, just constant humming. The sound of the net, all those little geeky things. I'll miss all of it."

The Lakers next traveled for Bryant's last visit to Detroit to face the Pistons, and lost for the second time in a row. Bryant had one of his worst shooting night's of the season, missing 13 of his 15 field goal attempts. Bryant was cheered in Detroit throughout the poor performance, and perhaps it was the poor shooting that brought to mind the defense of the "Bad Boys" Pistons of the 80's, a team Bryant said influenced his career:

"I think there's different ways to win championships. You have to go with the DNA of the players that you have on your roster. At the time, the Showtime Lakers and the [Boston] Celtics, they all had their own identity. The Pistons said you know, we're not going to be like them. We're going to try to win championships and win them our way and with our style. As a kid growing up, that taught me a valuable lesson. There's not one formula to win championships. You have to go with what you have and do the best job of that."

It's hard to argue Kobe did not do that last part throughout his career, transitioning from second to first option over his years with Shaquille O'Neal, then to center of the universe on a couple of terrible teams before easing back his usage again after the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol.

Bryant and the '15-16 Lakers continued to demonstrate that they were nowhere near those lofty heights when they fell for the fourth time in five tries to begin December in Bryant's last game in Toronto. The Raptors won 102-93 despite Kobe shooting 50 percent from the field for the first time of the season. The strong performance did not leave Bryant feeling any younger though:

"[I was] sitting on the bench and they started chanting, `We want Kobe!' (I was like), give me 5 minutes."

Metta World Peace also used that game as an opportunity to give the seminal description of the atmosphere of the "Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour":

"It's amazing. It's like they're horny for it. Horny fans... Make sure you word that right."

Bryant's next game was notable for another moment on the bench, when Kobe told head coach Byron Scott that he would sit so D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could play down the stretch of the team's overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves:

1

Kobe's confidence was rewarded when Russell sent to overtime with the first clutch shot of his young career, and no one was happier than Bryant in a symbolic "passing the torch" moment:

D'Angelo Russell forces overtime, beats Andrew Wiggins

D'Angelo Russell forces overtime for the LA Lakers with a TOUGH shot and Kobe Bryant was looooooooving this.(Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet)

Posted by Silver Screen and Roll on Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Up next was the first of Bryant's final four showdowns with his longtime rivals, the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers unsurprisingly lost to the championship contending Spurs, their twentieth defeat of the season. Despite their poor record, rookie Larry Nance, Jr. recalled the confidence Bryant still tried to impart to his young teammates:

Kobe came into the huddle before the game in San Antonio and said, "Look, we're five games out of the playoffs right now. Just think about that. We're five games out of the playoffs. There's three-fourths of the season left. This book is not written. We've still got time to do what we need to do, and sneak into one of these spots."

The Lakers made the short trip to Houston for a visit with the Rockets the next night, where Bryant claimed his relationship with Dwight Howard was good despite the much reported and rumored disagreements between the two during Howard's lone season in Los Angeles after his third consecutive good game in a Lakers' loss:

"[Things with Dwight will] always be cool. They'll always be fine. My responsibility, when Dwight and I played together, was to get him to play his best basketball. That involves sometimes pushing buttons when guys don't necessarily appreciate it at the time. But as a leader, that's your job. That's your responsibility. It's nothing personal. You just try to get the best out of them, even if they don't really find the humor in that at the time."

meeks

The Lakers would snap their six game losing streak when they hosted the Milwaukee Bucks in their return to Staples Center after an eight game road trip. Bryant scored 22 points on 15 shots to go with six assists as he led the Lakers to victory. Would more games like that one make him reconsider whether or not he wanted to retire?

"No."

The next day Bryant was asked to compare himself to a Star Wars character because the newest movie in the series was releasing in two days. He chose to make up a new character because Darth Vader was evil enough for him to identify with, but far too compliant:

"Darth Vader of course. But I don't take orders from the emperor. It would be like 'Darth Emperor,' maybe."

Bryant sat out the Lakers' next game due to the effects of age and a balky surgically repaired shoulder, but returned for their second game of their road trip to help the team get a come from behind 111-107 win against the Denver Nuggets. Bryant hit big shots down the stretch as he scored 31 points on 10-22 shooting, continuing his effective stretch. Surprisingly the 37-year old looked to take on a challenge at the defensive end of the floor as well in Denver, attempting to slow high scoring Nuggets sixth man Will Barton in the second half:

"[It was] a great test for me tonight to be able to see if I could still play both ends of the floor. I felt like I could do one. I didn't know if I could do both. It felt good to be able to do that."

Stringing together two consecutive wins would prove more difficult for Bryant and the Lakers as they were blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time in less than a week on December 19th. The ultra-competitive Bryant explained to the media how he was able to stomach all of the losses after the game with one of the best analogies he has ever used:

1

December 25th, 2015. Bryant's final Christmas Day game.  Kobe added 12 points to his Christmas Day scoring total, finishing with 395 points on the holiday, the top mark in NBA history. Bryant's game would not be enough to get the cat to bark as the Lakers' lost to the Clippers 94-84, and he reflected on all of his Christmas Day buckets after the loss:

"There's a little mixed emotions, honestly. I mean, I'm so used to playing on Christmas. It's kind of become a part of our family routine... I'm just very, very thankful to be able to play this many games on Christmas. Growing up and watching the Bulls and the Knicks and all those great games on Christmas Day, having been a part of this for so many years has been cool."

The team got to spend Christmas at home, but then the Lakers hit the road again for a three-game trip, beginning in Memphis against the Grizzlies. Bryant began the game with a vintage single quarter explosion, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the opening period while primarily being guarded by familiar foe and former teammate Matt Barnes. Bryant reminisced about the time Barnes memorably tried to make Kobe flinch by faking a pass towards his face on an inbounds play when Barnes was playing with the Orlando Magic (as captured by Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News):

"I thought it was funny," Bryant said following the Lakers' 112-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at FedEx Forum.

So much that Bryant did not even flinch.

"He's crazy, but he's not that crazy," Bryant said, alluding to Barnes' reputation as an emotional and physical defender. "So I didn't bother flinching."

Bryant's reaction soon became an Internet sensation and furthered his legend as an unfazed competitor. Yet, Bryant recalled Barnes' reaction that many have echoed: "It's human nature to flinch."

Yet, Bryant offered a simple explanation for his stoic reaction.

"It was a split second and I processed it pretty quickly," Bryant said. "I realized he wasn't going to do it. We laughed and joked about it a lot when he played together."

Up next was Bryant's final game in Charlotte, where he was originally drafted by the Hornets, who are now owned by the player Bryant has most frequently been compared to and held up against, Michael Jordan. Jordan did not attend, but did film a tribute video for Bryant and everyone attending the game to see. Kobe was appreciative of the gesture from MJ, but also described the love he had been getting from opposing arenas in the most Kobe-way possible:

"Sometimes the best way to beat a villain is to give him a hug," Bryant said, calling the love his personal "kryptonite."

The Lakers wrapped up their short road jaunt with Bryant's final game in Boston. The Lakers were able to get Kobe (who did not play well for most of the game but did come through with some clutch heroics at the end) a 112-104 win in his final game in Beantown, and Bryant showed love for the site of some of his most memorable battles:

"You know, honestly if I could chant for them, I would... I don't think the fans here really understand how much they drove me. From the singing of the songs, the shaking of the bus going back to the hotel, you know, that stuff really stuck with me. I mean it drove me to maniacal proportions. So, I don't think they really understand what they meant to my career."

meeks

After ending 2015 on a win, the Lakers began 2016 undefeated and on their first win streak of the season with a victory over the 76ers, a game that Kobe did not play in due to a sore shoulder. Bryant went on to miss the Lakers next two games after the 76ers game as well, a win against the Phoenix Suns followed by a loss against the Golden State Warriors, but over that week fans did get to hear Kobe's advice to Celtics' guard Isaiah Thomas, as described by Thomas to Adrian Wojnarowski, about how to better deal with distractions. It involved lions.

"{Kobe] said 'do you ever watch [nature documentaries]?'

And I said 'no, not really. I mean I watch it every now and then.'

But he's like 'okay, for instance a lion. When he's out to get his food and to kill whatever he's going after a gazelle, a zebra, whatever it may be, you know how many bugs and gnats are just on his eyes or on his body He doesn't feel those because he's so locked in to what he's trying to eat, and if you're not as locked in as you think you are you're going to feel those gnats, you're going to feel everything pulling you in and distracting you, whether it be the fans or the crowd or the coaches, whatever it may be.'

He said 'right now I'm enjoying the moment, I know I'm playing like shit but that's irrelevant. But years ago I didn't let anything distract me. I was like that lion, that no matter what was going on outside of what I was envisioning and what my goal was that I was going to lock in and get it."

Bryant returned against the Kings for his final game in Sacramento in a game the Lakers' lost, but the future Hall-of-Famer gave the city a great final performance, scoring 28 points on 18 shots in 31 minutes. After the game Bryant received one of his funniest farewell gifts he would get this season from Kings general manager and player Bryant was traded for, Vlade Divac:

"He gave me a Charlotte Hornets jersey number 8. It's awesome."

The Lakers quickly flew back to Los Angeles to host the Thunder, this time only losing by four after losing their prior two games against Oklahoma City by 75 points combined. Bryant had a mostly forgettable outing, but a play where he "nutmegged" Kevin Durant on a pass to Roy Hibbert stood out as one of the signature plays of the night. Bryant explained how growing up playing soccer helped give him the type of vision to make creative passes like that:

"Most of the time, American basketball is only taught in twos: 1-2, pick and roll, or give and go, or something like that. In playing soccer growing up, you really see the game in a combination of threes, sometimes fours and how you play within triangles. You see things in multiple combinations. And growing up playing (soccer), my eye and my brain became accustomed to seeing those combinations in threes and fours versus one and two."

Kobe sat out the Lakers next game against the Utah Jazz with a strained Achilles, and then was forced to leave the team's following one against the New Orleans Pelicans when the Achilles acted up, prompting fears that Bryant was heading towards a major injury if he kept up his current workload. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti even suggested that Kobe sit out two weeks to rest the injury. Kobe's response was classic Kobe (as captured by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times):

Bryant, who was getting a haircut in the media room Wednesday, was asked about Vitti wanting him to rest for a couple of weeks.

He smiled and just laughed and laughed and laughed before walking away.

Kobe and the Lakers were surprisingly competitive for the first half against the Warriors, but were doomed by a horrible third quarter and lost 116-98. Bryant showed the effects of his injury, shooting 4-of-15 in the loss, but was determined to play in his final trip to the Bay Area. Following the final buzzer, Kobe shared a moment with the current top scorer in the game, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and his superstar running mate Draymond Green:

"You guys have got to go ahead and make history," Bryant told Curry.

"I got to chase you," Curry replied, a response that Bryant said he too would have used.

"Damn right," Bryant told Curry. "Absolutely. Come and get it."

Bryant also signed a pair of his game-worn sneakers for Green.

The message Bryant wrote: "Make history."

meeks

Bryant was no more concerned about his health after another loss to the Utah Jazz, even after being forced out of the second half of the game with a "jammed up" Achilles tendon:

"Taking two weeks off is not on the menu, Bryant told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News. "Two weeks is a long time. It doesn't feel like a two-week injury. I've had those before. This doesn't feel that way."

The following night the Lakers returned to Los Angeles to host the Houston Rockets, and Bryant made history when he moved into second all-time in assists among Lakers, passing Jerry West. Kobe was known primarily as a high scorer throughout his career, which made his philosophy on passing interesting to hear:

"You have to keep the defense honest," said Bryant, who has 6,244 career assists. "You've got to be able to make plays and make passes to have the defense fear you as a passer. If they don't, you can't score 40 points, you can't score 50 points, because they can just load up on you. So you've got to be able to be feared as a passer."

The Lakers next game (another loss to the Sacramento Kings) took place two days before the 10th anniversary of him scoring 81 points on Jalen Rose the Toronto Raptors, and so on this night, Bryant would wax poetic about his scoring rather than passing:

1

On the actual tenth anniversary of arguably Bryant's most impressive effort, he fell just 76 points short of replicating it in a 108-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Despite not doing so, Bryant still believes it's possible for another player to match or top his scoring feat. They just have to believe, as he told ESPN:

"I think so. It's just a matter of -- you have to believe that it's possible. You've got to be in tip-top shape to be able to do it, too. It takes a lot of energy and the ability to carry that energy for the duration of the game."

The Lakers traveled to Portland the next night for another forgettable loss in a season full of them. The noteworthy part of the night came off the court, as the loss proved to be a bit of a breaking point for Bryant, who had thus far kept his frustrations with the Lakers' futility mostly hidden. Bryant lit into the whole team after their 37th loss, but called out Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell by name for their defense. While Bryant was unwilling to talk about the two young guys publicly, telling Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News "You know I don't do the gossip [expletive]," his frustration with the youth could have fueled his anti-AAU rant (as captured by Baxter Holmes of ESPN) after the game, in which he alluded that fixing it could be something he get's involved with upon retirement:

"I hate it because it doesn't teach our players how to play the right way, how to think the game, how to play in combinations of threes... My generation is when AAU basketball really started becoming s---. I got lucky because I grew up in Europe and everything there was still fundamental, so I learned all the basics... I think we're doing a tremendous disservice to our young basketball players right now. That's something that definitely needs to be fixed and it's going to definitely be one of the things that I focus on."

But fixing the issues in youth basketball would have to wait, as the Lakers still had 36 games left to play. Bryant missed the Lakers next game against the Dallas Mavericks, but returned to the lineup for the following game against his former teammate Pau Gasol, who he called "one of the best post players of all-time." Kobe also didn't mince words when voicing his disagreement with how Gasol was treated during his final season in Los Angeles:

"Everybody kind of fell in line with the Mike D'Antoni rhetoric of small ball and all this other [expletive]," Bryant said. "For a guy that has two championships to be treated that way, you don't do that, man."

After playing against one of his former teammates, Bryant then was absent from the team's showdown against a man who was nearly his teammate, Chris Paul, and his Los Angeles Clippers, before coming back to the lineup a game later to take on the Charlotte Hornets. The Lakers lost that game despite 23 points on 18 shots from Bryant. It was the team's 10th straight defeat, tying a franchise record for most consecutive losses. A defeated Bryant didn't sound too concerned with avoiding history in the Lakers next game following the loss:

1

He also put the team's struggles in perspective as only old-man Kobe could:

1

Bryant and the Lakers played considerably better against the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Kobe playing his best game of the season while scoring 38 points, including 14 of Los Angeles final 18 points down the stretch. He didn't understand what all the fuss was about:

1

The team and Bryant continued their success in their next game, beating the New Orleans Pelicans behind another throwback performance from Kobe, who scored 27 points with 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter. Bryant even hit a three-pointer with 28 seconds remaining in the game to seal the victory, and after the game he discussed how much work he had to put in over the summer to even be able to play in the city where he sustained his most recent season ending injury a year prior:

"I knew the amount of training that I had put in over the summertime. I mean, I worked like crazy. It becomes more frustrating because you're not seeing those results. It becomes: 'Maybe this is what happens [when you're older]. You put all the work in and still there's nothing to show for it and you can't do anything about it.' And I had to be really stubborn and say, `No. You've got to continue to stay with the process,' as I always have, and see what happens."

The San Antonio Spurs snapped the Lakers' streak two nights later in a game in which Bryant struggled down the stretch, going one-for-six in the fourth quarter after scoring 16 points in the third. The Spurs gave Bryant arguably the best video tribute of any stop on his farewell tour before the game, and Kobe reciprocated the appreciation, saying the team's consistency made him a better player:

"They forced me to raise my game to a championship level very quickly because of the way they played. The systematic approach to the game, their thinking on sequences, they play such a mental game. They play such a mistake-free game. It forced me at a really early age to step up to their level."

Bryant's success would not continue against the Indiana Pacers, with the veteran going 6-of-25 from the field in a two point Lakers' loss. Kobe did hit four consecutive jumpers down the stretch, but then missed his next five as the Pacers pulled away. Bryant gave a perfect analogy for the magic followed by misses:

"I pulled a rabbit out a hat and the rabbit disappeared."

The Lakers headed into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers before Kobe was set to head to Toronto to participate in his last All-Star weekend. The 55 games before the break took their toll:

1

All-Star Weekend ended up being a celebration of Bryant's legacy, one in which the retiring star received praise from nearly everyone involved with the NBA. He even received his own special introduction before the exhibition. Before taking the court, Bryant described to the media why the moment was special to him:

"This is pretty cool," Bryant said. "I'm looking around the room and seeing guys that I'm playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game. It's true. I mean, how many players can say they've played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It's not sad at all. I mean, I'm really happy and honored to be here and see this."

Bryant also described why he doesn't regret the decision to skip college for the NBA (and no, surprisingly he didn't just count his rings or show his bank account balance):

In 2006, the NBA began requiring players either to attend college or play overseas for at least a year before declaring draft eligibility.

"I don't think it matters," Bryant said about the rule. "You have high school players who go to college, stay for four years and are not ready. You have certain high school players skip college and they're ready. It depends on the mentors that you have and it depends on the internal motivation."

The Lakers kicked off their final stretch of the regular season with Kobe's final game against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers' lost their 45th game of the season, and Kobe Bryant dislocated his finger late in the fourth quarter. Trainer Gary Vitti popped it back in and Bryant went right back into the game, but the injury led to one of the best press conference photos in history:

1

Bryant ended his career with exactly 82 games against the Big Fundamental, an entire regular season worth of games between the two best players of their generation. Kobe said he would miss the competition now that it was over:

"It's been so much fun competing against [Duncan] and that organization... I've truly, truly enjoyed it. They've pushed me to really fine-tune and sharpen my game. I'm a little sad that matchup is not going to happen."

Two nights later, Bryant took the floor against former teammate Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls for the final time. After the Lakers' lost their fifth straight game, Kobe gave an unfiltered look into how he viewed his relationships with two of his most significant former teammates, as captured by Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

1

The next night was another Bryant last in a season full of them, his final time playing in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Bryant went just 3-of-12 from the field in another loss, but used veteran craftiness to draw nine free-throws, sinking eight of them to get him to 15 points. The defeat was the team's 47th of the year, and while Kobe was unable to summon the level of play that made so many younger players idolize him, he did reveal the type of example he hoped to set for the next generation.

"Hopefully they take the mentality to go after your dreams. Go after it. I never compromised that," he said Monday. "I never allowed anybody to tell me what I was capable of accomplishing. I never let anybody tell me that I can't do. I went after it. I put all my eggs in one basket and hopefully they have that same mentality. If you want to accomplish something or do something that a lot of people think is difficult to accomplish, you have to put all your eggs in one basket. There's no compromise with that. And I hope that this younger generation of players understands that. And I'll be there along the way to help them out as well."

The Lakers' next traveled to Memphis, where Bryant scored 13 points on 14 shots in another Lakers' loss. The aged and aching star reminded reporters after his final game in Memphis that he continued to play through pain on the road so fans could see him one final time.

"You say `thank you' to the fans... Let the fans know how much I have appreciated you guys over all these years... Hopefully, the fans can feel how thankful I am for them."

While he increasingly made efforts to play on the road so fans around the country could see him one final time, Bryant sacrificed home games in an attempt to stay upright. Kobe missed the Lakers' next two games at Staples Center, another loss to Memphis and a win over the Brooklyn Nets, but he returned for his final road game in Denver as the Lakers' lost 117-107.

Bryant's play was not particularly noteworthy (he scored five points on two shots in 11 first quarter minutes before being ruled out with the same sore shoulder that had sidelined him for the prior two games), but his interactions with fans in the arena were. Bryant was caught on camera giving children his signed sneakers he had worn that night, and explained the heartwarming moment after the game (as captured by Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles).

"They earned them," Bryant said about the kids who received the priceless souvenirs. "We had a little contest going on. They wanted to know what the name of our pet dog was. So, I gave them a clue. I said, 'It was in a [Harry] Potter film.'"
According to Bryant, a competition ensued with a couple young ladies and a couple young boys. Every time they got a chance, the group of young fans would shout out a list of names from the films.
"And the deal was that if they got [the name right], I would give them my shoes," Bryant said with a gracious smile. "And so, they got it."

Almost no one thought the Lakers had a chance of defeating the defending champion Warriors, and while Bryant wasn't great against the Dubs (scoring 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting), he was a constant voice in the ear of his young teammates on the bench, providing them with advice during the upset. The retiring former franchise centerpiece was happy to see the team's hoped-for future get such a big win.

"For the young guys, it's extremely important to see the results," Bryant said. "When you pay attention to little details, good things happen. As they grow, they start trusting that more and more."

Bryant skipped the Lakers' next game against the Orlando Magic to rest up for his final showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the rest allowed him to score 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting in a 120-108 loss. Following the loss, Kobe had probably the most Kobe Bryant advice of all-time for LeBron's kids:

"They pass too much," Kobe told [LeBron's mother, Gloria James]. "Send them my way, and I'll fix that."

With exactly a month left in his final season, Kobe had another "last" on the docket: his final matchup with old friend Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers lost their second game in a row and their younger players had their minutes limited down the stretch, but if they were looking for sympathy from Bryant, they would have to keep looking:

1

Bryant sat out the Lakers' next game against the Suns, but returned for his final home game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bryant began the game 1-for-7, and it looked like it would be another Lakers loss in part due to his horrific shooting. But Kobe showed flashes of the player he used to be in the second half, hitting numerous turnaround jumpers as the Lakers went on to win 107-100.

A fairly close and helter-skelter game may have put March Madness and college basketball as a whole on Kobe's mind, and the retiring superstar gave his thoughts on the NBA's age limit after the Lakers' 15th win of the season:

1

Kobe suited up the next night to play against the Phoenix Suns, dropping 17 points in the Lakers' 56th loss of the year. Playing in both games of a back-to-back was not been a common occurrence for Bryant during the '15-16 season, but he sounded like he's planning to watch even less frequently than that when he retires:

1

With just 11 games remaining in his career, Bryant started to really look to play in every one. The fading star gave home fans a throwback performance in the team's loss to the Denver Nuggets, scoring 28 points. Most of these have been quotes, but this moment following the loss pretty much exemplified the circus that was the Kobe Bryant farewell tour:

1

The Lakers lost their 58th game of the season two nights later, falling 101-88 to the Washington Wizards two nights later. Bryant scored 17 points in the loss, and in his final postgame media scrum held at his locker following the game, Kobe was asked which of the team's young players were ready to succeed him as the face of the Lakers franchise. His answer was pretty much what you'd expect:

"If you have to ask that question, the answer is already there," said Bryant. "Torches never get passed. You've got to earn that."

None of the Lakers took the torch the next night against the Utah Jazz, where the team tied their franchise record for largest margin of defeat with a 48-point drubbing from Quin Snyder's crew. Kobe struggled, scoring just five points on his 11 shots. The Lakers weren't any better, something Kobe candidly acknowledged after the game when asked about his relationship with Jazz fans:

"They want to hate me tonight, I want to hate them, but we suck."

Bryant admitted the same brashness that contributed to so many fans wanting to hate him throughout his career the next night at an event for American Express:

1

After the Lakers' next game, an overtime win against Miami in which Bryant played less than nine minutes, he offered some advice for a teammate who isn't much older than that hypothetical 17-year old Kobe. D'Angelo Russell had been at the center of reports of locker room discord after a leaked video he shot showed Nick Young admitting to infidelity. Kobe, no stranger to locker room disputes, shared the advice he gave Russell with the media:

"All I can do is my best Yoda impersonation," said Kobe. "'One day pass this shall.'"

Bryant next suited up against his and the Lakers' hated rival, the Boston Celtics. Bryant's final game against the green was a loss, but it went down as a memorable one in the context of his standard during his yearlong farewell tour. Bryant's 34 points were his second highest total of the season, something partially attributable to how much he loves going against the Celtics:

1

Bryant's next contest was much more forgettable, a snooze-worthy 103-81 loss to the Clippers. It was the Lakers' 61st loss of the season, guaranteeing that they would at least tie having the worst record in team history. After the game Bryant shared his philosophy on a very different type of history the Warriors were trying to make:

1

The Lakers lost again to the Clippers the next night, and Bryant gave his take on the different type of history the Lakers were making, with their 62nd loss of the season leaving them as the worst Lakers team in franchise history for the third consecutive year. The always quotable Kobe was at the top of his game following the loss:

1

Bryant's last road trip began with a blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Bryant scored all 14 of his points in the first quarter, but only played 10 minutes the rest of the game after playing the whole first period. Following the game, he sounded as relieved to be retiring as he had the whole season when recalling how he told his daughters he was heading out to Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

On Thursday, Kobe Bryant and his two daughters were playing around at his house in Newport Beach, California, and they didn't want him to leave.

"Why can't you stay home?" they asked him.

"This is the last one," the Los Angeles Lakers star told them. "One more."

meeks

The next stop on Bryant's final roadtrip was Houston, where Bryant would face off with Dwight Howard's Rockets one last time. Kobe gave the Rockets a 34-point going away present, but it wasn't enough in a game the Lakers lost by 20. After the game, Bryant found out that ESPN had moved his final game to ESPN 2 in favor of the Warriors' chase for history.

The longtime Lakers star was not concerned with the programming note:

"What the hell do I care?" Bryant said before resorting to sarcasm. "It hurt my feelings."

Bryant's final road game was a ho-hum 13-point performance in a 33 point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Following the result, Bryant was asked if any player had ever beaten him one-on-one. There is a quote here, but sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words:

1

Bryant's last game was almost an almost unimaginable display of poignancy and pageantry, and the retiring superstar gave his fans one last show to boot. Bryant scored 60 points before walking off of an NBA court forever, and his final address to fans was the most fitting farewell:

"Mamba out."

Goodbye, Kobe. There will never be another player as talented both on the floor and with a quote.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

About the Author

Loading comments...