Appreciating what could be Kobe Bryant’s last scoring explosion

The following is a guest post from Michael Lucas, founder of Standing O Sports and former contributor to Dime Mag

When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Kobe Bryant with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft, I was three years old. I never saw Michael Jordan play in his prime. I was too young. So when the clock was winding down in my backyard—5…4…3…2…1…, I didn’t turn into one of the players on my beloved Nets, I turned into the Black Mamba.

There are a handful of players in every sport that transcend generations. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan are examples from the NBA who basketball fans in 2085 will still talk about. Kobe will be one of those players too.

Back on November 29, when Kobe announced his retirement in a piece in The Players’ Tribune, it didn’t really hit me that I’d only have a few more opportunities to watch one of the best ever do his thing.

I didn’t get a chance to go home for Christmas this year because I had to work, so I spent most of my afternoon watching NBA games. While I was deciding if I’d watch the Lakers/Clippers game that night, I came across this Kobe tribute video.

Chills ran up and down my spine. How could I not tune in after watching that?

Except what I saw wasn’t the Kobe I’ve seen for the last 20 years. I saw an old, beat-up, demoralized version of No. 24. The Lakers lost that game, and it hurt to watch Kobe be that ineffective on such a bad team.

As a Tennessee resident, I only get to see the Lakers when they’re on national television. And with my crazy work schedule, I’m not always able to see the games.

Last night however, I did have a chance to watch the Lakers play. I was off work, my Nets are so bad they’re unwatchable, and Kobe has a knack of going off against Sam Mitchell-coached teams.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Kobe gathered in 38 points, 5 boards, and 5 assists in easily his best performance of the season.

Once again, chills.

From the transition trey balls to his game-winning pull-up jumper, it was vintage Kobe. Even with young guns like Andrew Wiggins and D’Angelo Russell putting on shows of their own, the Black Mamba shined the brightest. The youth movement in the NBA is in full effect, but at least for one night, one of the NBA’s oldest stars donned the crown.

As a New York Yankees fan, I know exactly what Lakers fans are going through right now. I went through the same thing with Derek Jeter two years ago, and I know it’s absolutely crucial to cherish moments like a 38-point outburst, especially when it comes in a win, because they just don’t come around too often.

There’s a better chance of the Warriors going on a 10-game losing streak this year than there is of the Lakers making the playoffs. When the regular season ends, so does Kobe’s career.

There’s 31 games left in the regular season. For any Lakers fan, that means those final 31 games are must-watch events. For anyone outside of the Lakers viewing area, any chance you get to see him play falls in that same category.

Kobe Bryant is the best pure scorer of my generation. He averaged 35.4 points per game in the 2005-2006 season. That’s flat-out absurd. He’s the ultimate winner, and would do everything in his power to ensure a win.

I’ll never forgive him for his absolute dismantling of the Nets in the 2001-2002 NBA Finals, but I’ll never forget how he dominated the rest of the NBA for the better part of two decades.

When I think of the NBA, Kobe Bryant is all I know. I don’t know a league without him, and it saddens me to think of one that way.

I think I speak for the rest of the NBA world when I say I hope Kobe has a few more performances like last night in his back pocket.

But even if not, thank you for everything, Kobe. It’s been a pleasure and an honor watching you drop buckets for the last 20 years.

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