The night Kobe dropped 60 on Utah

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. He took history with him.

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. Anything he did that left your jaw hitting the floor did not come as a surprise. It was Kobe being Kobe.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant puts up the jumper over Clipper defenders reserves Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes as the Los Angeles Clippers defeat their crosstown rivals the Los Angeles Lakers 109-95, on Sunday, April 7, 2013, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. BURT HARRIS/PI

That is the beauty of how Bryant’s greatness commandeered the NBA’s landscape for 20 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. The Black Mamba was mean. He could be a bit nasty. He was ruthless. His will to win only superseded his will to dominate his opponent.

The style in which Bryant played was part magician, part theatrical, part gamesmanship, and all blood, sweat, and tears. He was incomparable. Bryant never cheated the game. Taking a play off was not in Bryant’s vocabulary.   

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 serves as an amazing appetizer to what the basketball icon could do.

Bryant was a 6-foot-6 wonderment coiled in explosive intensity and unyielding fortitude. 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’s 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 the last 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 happened on No. 24’s last appearance in an NBA game?

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

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

Only Kobe Bryant could have pulled off what he managed to do against the Jazz at Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena) on a 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.

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. 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 breathtaking.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s almost illogical to comprehend.

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.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant (24) shoots over Dwayne Wade (3) of the Miami Heat. Photo Credit: Burt Harris/HGStar1-News

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 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 every 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.”

This article is an excerpt from an upcoming book, “Undefined,” written by the author

Top Photo Caption: Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant pounds his chest after the last NBA basketball game of his career against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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