Remembering Kobe Bryant: Saying Farewell in 60

LOS ANGELES-When Kobe Bryant uttered the words “Mamba Out” in the aftermath of his final basketball game, an era of NBA greatness that will never be seen again followed him right off the court. Bryant was one of those players who come along once in a generation.

Those who had the fortune of seeing Bryant play in person were blessed. Bryant made the spectacular look routine. When he did something extraordinary, the feat became accepted as a common occurrence.

That is the beauty of how Bryant’s greatness commandeered the NBA’s landscape for twenty years. The league had a megastar in Bryant who could bust the cultural barrier door down with his heartwarming and endearing smile. Then there was this guy named the Black Mamba, Bryant’s alter-ego on the basketball court.

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Kobe Bryant in warmups as the Los Angeles Lakers hit the floor at Staples Center. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

The Black Mamba was mean. He could be a bit nasty. He was ruthless. His will to win was incomparable. Fans never felt cheated by the Black Mamba. Night in and night out, Bryant poured his guts out and left everything he had on the floor. He never compromised the game at the fans’ expense or the integrity of the game.

For individuals who did not get the chance to see the Black Mamba in action, watching video clips of Bryant only serve as an amazement appetizer to what the basketball icon could do.

Bryant was a 6-foot-6 wonderment coiled in explosive intensity and unyielding will power. Doing the unthinkable was always in Bryant’s wheelhouse. The inevitable comparison to Michael Jordan was always in Bryant’s backyard.

Jordan won six NBA titles; Bryant nabbed five. Bryant scored more career points than Jordan. The debate over who is the best two-guard ever between these two will rage on for decades. But what is not questionable is Bryant as an all-time great. There have been many adjectives over the past 20 years to describe the play of Bryant.

Los Angeles Lakers fans know all about these adjectives because they’ve used so many that they’ve probably run out of words to use whenever the Black Mamba did something special.

For the greater part of two decades, that’s probably been just about every other night. So how would these devoted fans of the Purple and Gold best describe what just happened on No. 24’s last appearance in an NBA game?

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In his farewell game against the Utah Jazz, Kobe Bryant scored 60 points. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Sixty. That’s all you can say after what the basketball world and aficionados and fans alike witnessed what Bryant did against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, April 13, 2016.

Only Kobe Bryant could have pulled off what he managed to do against the Jazz at Staples Center on this cool Southern California evening. Only Kobe Bryant could have upstaged the Golden State Warriors’ record-breaking night of recording their 73rd win in an 82-game regular season. He was that guy.

Only Kobe Bryant could have dropped 60 points in the final game of a 20-year storied basketball career. At the ripe age of 37, only Kobe Bean Bryant could have taken our breaths away with that maestro-type performance in the Lakers season-ending finale.

But in pleasing the unadulterated Laker faithful with all his mid-air contortions on his way to the basket and making sure his patented fadeaway jump shot was working in sync with his impeccable timing for the “wow” moment, Bryant nearly lost his breath as he threw out every ounce of energy he had on the court.

“I can’t believe this actually happened, to be honest,” Bryant said. “This is kind of crazy to me, the last game at home. It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way, it really is. Just the outpouring of support all night long, former teammates, fans and family.

“It’s just cool to be here, it’s unbelievable. I’m still in shock about it. Then I’ll allow myself to go back and read a lot of the things and watch some of the commentary and videos, just kind of take it all in.”

Special people do special things all the time and they make it look ordinary while they’re doing it, something that Bryant specialized in.

Scoring 60 points on a team fighting for a playoff berth is more than impressive. It’s unbelievable. But to do what Bryant did to Utah after sloshing his way past 42 minutes in the game in a contest that the Lakers trailed at one point by 15 points-this coming after a disastrous 17-win season, after overcoming an assortment of major injuries the last three years, could best be described as stupendous.

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Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career in the NBA as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

It doesn’t make sense. It’s almost illogical to comprehend what Bryant was able to do.

Throughout the 2015-2016 NBA season, except for several games, Bryant played like a shell of himself. For the most part, Bryant had the look all season of a tired, worn-out warrior just coming off the battlefield. After all these years of twirling, flying through the air, dunking on people, and mercilessly getting knocked down to the floor like a paper bag, Bryant’s body looked like it had enough.

Sure, we saw glimpses of the greatness that made Bryant the league MVP, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and an 18-time All-Star. We saw the patented jump shot with the legs kicked out now and then. We saw the dip and bobble used with effectiveness every once and a while.

No one saw 60 points coming, except maybe Lakers coach Byron Scott.

The Utah Jazz sure as heck did not see this coming. In the two games that Bryant played against Utah this past season, he scored a total of 10 points. That’s five points apiece. But as he has shown throughout his career, never count the Black Mamba out of anything. Scott was not one of those individuals who was super surprised that his former teammate put on one final superhuman spectacle.

“For some reason, it just didn’t surprise me that this is the way he would go out,” Scott told reporters. “When I talked about it [the best-case scenario for Kobe’s last game] last week-let him score 50 and play a lot of minutes, and hit the game-winner. I think for him, he probably had that in his mind as well. Just go out there and execute it, be able to muster up enough strength. You just kind of sit there and think [dang], he’s something else.”

Scott played with three Hall of Fame players in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and James Worthy when the Lakers basketball show was simply known as “Showtime.” Playing alongside the greatest scorer the NBA has ever had (Abdul Jabbar) and perhaps the league’s greatest showman (Johnson), Scott has seen his fair share of virtuoso performances.

Scott said he’s never seen anything quite like what Bryant did.

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Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett has his shot challenged by the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals. Courtesy photo

“I’ve never seen it, never been a part of it, never witnessed anything like that,” Scott said in disbelief. “I told the guys just a minute ago that they just witnessed history. I hope they savor the moment. I hope they realize that man gave everything he had for 20 years, and he did it again tonight. He was exhausted with seven minutes left in the game. I knew it, he knew it. Somehow, just his sheer will, his sheer determination, just the guts that he has…kind of put everybody on his back and carried them, carried the game and taking it over, is just amazing to me. It’s mind-boggling.”

This performance was vintage Kobe. What we saw, and what millions of people watching their television sets saw, was the Kobe Bryant that once scaled Mount Everest to drop 81 points in a single game.

This is the same cat who has 25 career 50 plus games, a guy who racked up his sixth 60-point game with his hard-to-believe swan song.

And if you have seen Bryant play during his heyday, you know he has the will to close that is second to none. Bryant’s will to win trumps only his will to be the best on the basketball court night in and night out. What Bryant did to Utah was nothing but sheer will.

“He deserves the type of game he had,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said of Bryant. “We didn’t play well enough or put up enough resistance to overcome that. His will is a powerful thing and that’s what we saw tonight at the end of the game.

“Hats off to him and his career, and what’s he’s done for this game. You have so much respect for him, and the fact that we came upon the short end of it, it is what it is. You’re happy for someone of that stature to end their career a certain way, and at the same time, you don’t like being on the other side of that.”

After scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 101-96 win, Bryant looked to be standing upright on fumes alone. There was nothing left in his 37-year-old body to give when the clock finally ticked down to zero. During his whole career, Bryant left it all on the floor. This game was no different.

In the first quarter, when he scored 15 points, it was clear that Bryant was going to leave everything he had on that basketball court, getting knocked down and picking himself up with adrenaline pumping. He missed his first five shots on the night, an evening that saw Bryant put up 50 shot attempts. But then Bryant caught fire and converted his next five field-goal attempts.

Bryant brought it all to the table against the Jazz: fall away jump shots, drives to the basket, rainbow 3-pointers, and the mid-range jumpers. Bryant ended his legendary career on the free-throw line, converting his final charity stripes attempts to settle with 60 points. It was an extraordinary ending for a once-in-a-generational player.

As he would say later after the game, you can’t write a better script than this. But this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. What he did is nothing short of iconic.

He is a legend. It was yesterday that we reminisced about Bryant’s Afro puff hairdo and the precocious smile that would melt a mother’s heart.

When he left the court for good, Bryant proved that he could do a whole more than dribble a basketball. He stood tall as a man, a husband, a father, a community maverick, and visionary. Today, Bryant stands as the ultimate competitor, a champions’ champion, a player who never cheated the game.

That’s why it is so hard to imagine that we will never see Kobe Bryant playing on the NBA hardwood again. It is hard to say good-bye. You don’t replace a Kobe Bryant. For the last 20 years, Bryant has been the face of Los Angeles. Bryant has been embedded into our consciousness, whether it has been tackling the homelessness issue around the city, mentoring young players or going about the business of winning NBA titles.

He is going to be missed. At least Bryant gave everyone a great send-off present; gone in sixty.

“There were a lot of points there where I started getting emotional, you know,” Bryant said. ” When we first ran out of the tunnel, I caught myself. I put on my jersey and I go, ‘Okay. This is the last time I’m going to put on a jersey.’ Then, it’s the last time I’ll run out of the tunnel.

“Then when those moments happen, you catch yourself getting really emotional. Then you say, ‘Okay. You have to block that out because none of that makes a difference.’ That’s when you come out there and completely lay an egg, completely mess up the situation…so you have to continue to concentrate and focus. Then you can be nostalgic all you want later tonight and tomorrow.”

Kobe Bryant played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant finished his career as the NBA’s No. 3 scorer of all-time with 33,643 points. Bryant now sit at No. 4 on the all-time scoring list. Bryant led the Lakers to seven NBA championship appearances and was voted as Finals MVP twice. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star and earned a spot on the All-NBA Defensive Team 12 times, nine as a first-team member.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article was  written by Dennis J. Freeman and published in 2016. This is an updated and re-edited version of that story. 

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