As a life-long Angeleno watching Kobe Bryant play his final retirement game, I hoped I would see some of the magic that has made me curse, scream and cheer for the last two decades. But the realist within me thought, he’s not the same physically and the pressure to go out in greatness in such a game, would probably backfire. I even speculated that he may be so ready for retirement he’d just pass around the ball to his team-mates most of the game, as a final ‘shut-up’ to his ball-hog critics. But what we all had the privilege to witness that game was a man playing with his insides out. Yes, the outer shell may be beat up and damaged, but his inner fire to be the best basketball player on any court, at any time, remained untouched, even after 20 years.
Kobe Bryant ended his storied career the way we all dream of doing with anything significant in our lives. With excitement, cheer, surprise and electricity! Mamba scored 60pts in his 4 quarters of play against the Utah Jazz (see video above). Those numbers would be a career highlight for 95% of the players in today’s NBA. Yet he did it physically battered and in a stage of his life that most consider over-the-hill. Yes, he’s greatly diminished in his jumping ability , off the dribble burst and break-away speed, but he did what greatness does. His passion, commitment and relentless love of the sport fueled him to not only bring the Lakers a victory after trailing most of the game, but it allowed him a final opportunity to surpass our expectations of how to properly end a legacy.
For Angelenos, his final game was even more significant because he has been such an iconic Los Angeles symbol. He played out his entire NBA career with our city after the draft trade from the Charlotte Hornets. For 20 years we’ve watched him grow and we’ve watched him struggle, not only to find ‘his game’ but also his identity, in the face of combative team-mates and legal allegations. He was like a distant cousin that we could argue or brag about at the water-cooler with anti-LA fans. Think about how much you personally have grown in the past 20 years. When Kobe started with the Lakers, Robert Kardashian Sr. was the only Kardashian the world had ever heard of. Since that time, the name Kobe Bryant has been peppered throughout all of our growing years by the media or in personal conversations, whether you’re a basketball fan or not. Yes, Kobe was that distant cousin we all shared as a common bond as Angelenos. That is what made April 13th’s game even more special. With such a larger than life-on-the-court star so deeply rooted into each and every one of our lives for so long…it may have been LA’s last shared cheer for quite some time!
Writer: Kevin Steib | (twitter: @2themoon_)
Editor: Norma P. Sepulveda | (twitter: @nsepulveda)