LOS ANGELES-The shots just would not go in. He could not finish the game, let alone thrill the sellout crowd at Staples Center the way he has for the past 20 years. When the Los Angeles Lakers took the floor Tuesday night as the visitors against the Los Angeles Clippers, who had no problem in dispatching their in-house rivals with an easy 103-81 win, Kobe Bryant was clearly at the center of everybody’s attention.
Just before the national anthem vibrated with clarity (sung beautifully by former Destiny Child’s member Michelle Williams), Bryant and Chris Paul met up at halftcourt and shared pleasantries along with a warm embrace. The Clippers, as an organization, gave Bryant homage during the introduction of the players, something not bestowed on any team.
Kobe Bryant isn’t just a player. He is the Black Mamba. The best shooting guard in the history of the NBA outside of Michael Jordan, the greatest player of his era. But all good things, at some point or another, has to come to an end.
The NBA and its fans are seeing the end of the Black Mamba era. It will be only a couple of more days now, and No. 24 will not be seen again donning the purple and gold.
“Ever since I have been in the NBA, Kobe [ Bryant] has been the one constant,” said Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. “He is the guy everybody from his age looked up. He is a star among stars. He is somebody who has left his imprint on the game. I have always said, I think we have seen that from Michael Jordan, but he is the closest one to him.”
Like Jordan, who proceeded him, there is only one Kobe Bryant. There probably won’t be another player who is going to put up 81 points in a game the way Bryant did against the Toronto Raptors back in 2006. And like Jordan, Bryant has always been THAT guy, the one player no one wanted to contend with when the game was on the line.
His ulta-competitive juices has brought NBA fans a lot of memories. There are plenty of players who share in those memorable moments as well. Probably the best memories that Crawford has of Bryant was his one-man take down of the Raptors with his 81-point performance, followed by the Black Mamba outscoring the Dallas Mavericks 62-61 in three quarters in a 2005 home game.
“[My best memory of Kobe is] when he scored 81 [points], and it just followed up when he had 62 and Dallas had 61. I remember scoring 52 [points] that year, and later on that 81-point game came. I was just watching in disbelief because I remember how hot I was to score 52, and to score almost 30 points more than that was unbelievable.”
This meaningless contest against the Clippers would not be one of Bryant’s all-time moments. Bryant only scored six points in 21 minutes of action, connecting on just 2 of the 12 shots he took from the field. There was anticipation on every shot he took, the Staples Center crowd pulling for Bryant to give them one more thrill to tell their friends or loved ones about.
On a night in which Paul dominated with a 25-point, eight assist-effort, and the opportunity to read through the continuing on-court adjustment of Blake Griffin after the All-Star forward missed so many games this season, Bryant garnered most of the attention. Sentimentally, a true basketball fan can’t but want to see Bryant go off in the sunset with something to smile about.
Outside of sold-out arenas sharing in the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, there has not been a lot of good things for Bryant to hang his hat on when it comes to matters on the court. The Lakers, after the blowout defeat to the Clippers, is 16-61. It will probably get worse.
For a man who fueled the Lakers to five championships, claimed an NBA MVP (should at least be three in this writer’s opinion), and was generally the rule of thumb in greatness for two decades, it is not a kind way for Bryant to go out on. It is ugly.
But there hasn’t been anything ugly about Bryant’s command for excellence throughout his career. For the Steph Currys and the LeBron James of the world, Kobe Bryant is the standard-bearer for the next generation of players. The swag is still there. But everything else about Bryant has been nothing but a shell of the mercurial player he once was.
These days there are lot more hissing than a lethal strike connection. With the curtain set to drop on his final NBA act, Bryant tried to muster up an effort that was worthy of appreciation. Bryant does not owe anyone else anything. He’s given his all for the last 20 years. If anything, the game owes Bryant.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers had a private moment with Bryant that illustrate his appreciation for the future Hall of Famer.
“I am not going to share a lot of the [dialogue Kobe Bryant and I had]. Just mad respect,” Rivers said. “I have always had that for him and each other. My job was to try and stop him or frustrate him when we play him, and his job was to try and inflict pain. It is the type of relationship we have. But the respect is amazing. I have always respected him. I have always respected the way he approached the game.”