Last night is the only time in history when 60 will be worth much more than 73. Kobe Bean Bryant ended his 20 year NBA career last night scoring 60 points while hitting multiple clutch jump shots in a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz. A few minutes before that, the Golden State Warriors earned their record 73rd regular season win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kobe scoring 60 points is nothing new, he has done it 5 times. Kobe taking 50 shots is a career high but totally not out of character, he has missed the most shots in NBA history. During Kobe’s last season we did experience something new though. The depth, compassion and respect we saw from Kobe during his farewell season totally obliterates all the things we thought he was.
Kobe made his name as a cold hearted competitor. There are tons of stories from teammates and even a book from his former head coach Phil Jackson which paint Kobe as a win at all costs type of player. Championships meant more to Bryant than the relationships he had in the locker room. However, without a realistic shot at any team success the past three seasons in LA, Kobe has had to find other motivation to fuel his game.
Throughout this season, it seems as if that motivation has come in the form in coaching his super young teammates and solidifying relationships with his peers around the league. At the end of each game this season Kobe gave out more hugs than Barney. In numerous interviews he praised the superstars of our era and openly offered his wisdom to all who needed it. All this from a guy who once said:
“Smush Parker was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. … I was shooting 45 times a game [in 2007]. What was I supposed to do? Pass it into Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown?”
“There’s certain players that I’ve made cry. If I can make you cry by being sarcastic, then I really don’t want to play with you in the playoffs.”
Even though this seems like a new Kobe, he has had no issue being open in the past. Probably too open. During his time with Shaquille O’Neal in LA, the two would frequently communicate through the media. Kobe always thought Shaq was lazy in practice, and Shaq thought Kobe took too many shots. The worst of it came when the jabs at each other became personal. During Kobe’s sexual assault trial, for some reason he suggested that Shaq had paid off women that he had extra marital relations with:
Eventually, Kobe grew up and two have made up. Through Kobe’s jovial farewell season, he has made these minor missteps seem irrelevant. Our first thoughts will always go to his precise movements and planned actions on the basketball court that made him an all time great.
The last stand of Kobe Bryant is something I’ll definitely tell my future kids about as they watch the final games of Steph Curry or Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis. The Kobe that smile, hugs and scored 60 in his final game, is what will resonate for years to come. But the drama, mistakes and overall hatred for his should by opposing fans is what made him more interesting than the average superstar. Probably even more interesting than MJ.