From the moment I woke up on Wednesday, I dreaded watching Kobe Bryant one last time Wednesday night.
I tried to avoid montage videos, the “Thank You” letters and the sappy articles, doing it all unsuccessfully.
I expected tears to flow Wednesday night. I expected a sad ending to a glorious career. I expected the pre-game videos and farewell videos from teammates to be the highlight of the night.
Yet Kobe Bryant wasn’t content with that ending.
When I wrote my thank you letter the night Kobe Bryant retired, I expected the nights of greatness to have disappeared and be replaced with short bursts throughout games. And his greatness and aura carried the Lakers much of this season. But the distractions mounted, ranging from head coaching to turmoil between the players.
On Wednesday night, none of that mattered. Nobody cared what Byron Scott had to say. No one uttered a sentence about D’Angelo Russell and “trust” with teammates. No one cared about rotations, substitution patterns or how many minutes Bryant logged.
Instead, Kobe dominated the night. His night. He hoisted 50 shots, and not a single fan cared. If anything, they wanted more.
On a season where so much went wrong, everything about Kobe’s finale was right.
The Basketball Gods, who have tortured the Lakers and Bryant, specifically his body, for the last handful of seasons, blessed the fanbase with one more truly magical night. It was a night fans will tell their children and grandchildren about. It was a night that fans will want to relive over and over.
In reality, it encapsulated everything about Kobe Bryant’s career.
As the era of basketball has shifted to a place where efficiency is lauded, Bryant has been left in the cold. His days of chucking were no longer seen as good basketball from an analytics point of view.
Yet Wednesday night, in the most Kobe of stat lines possible, Bryant hoisted 50 shots to get his 60 points and still had a true shooting percentage of 54.3%, which is above league average. He shot 50 times and was, for the most part, efficient.
He saved a Laker team that looked dead in the water with three minutes to go, outscoring the Jazz 35-21 in the fourth quarter and going on a personal 13-0 run, assisting on the final basket of the night.
He did it his way.
No one expected Bryant to change. His stubborn nature is what led him to five titles and helped him create the rabid fan base he has.
Instead of spending the night crying, I spent the night jumping up and down in my living room, cheering on a 16-win Laker team with a smile on my face.
For that, I thank you one last time, Kobe. You did it your way until the very end.