The last day of the regular season is like the last day of school. A few people might still have final exams, but others are already finished and ready for the summer. There’s a loose, anything-goes vibe that surrounds a tenseness for a few.
In this context, one of the most extraordinary performances happened last year.
Kobe Bryant, in the final game of his career, scored 60 points on 50 shots in a Lakers win over the Jazz.
Kobe, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m going to rest up and come out here and have this monster game.'”
The plan, as much as there was one, was to delight some fans while avoiding any more serious injuries. “Give them a couple plays, take them down memory lane a little bit,” Bryant tells ESPN. And that would be that.
“After the first couple minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, s—,'” Bryant says. “It became apparent really, really quickly that this night was not going to go down with me just playing OK. It was either going to have to be an epic one or the worst one ever, because they were just going to keep throwing me the damn ball and the crowd wanted me to shoot every time — almost to the point where I felt bad for my teammates, because if they took a shot, the crowd was ready to boo. So it was like, ‘Oh, s—. I gotta go.'”
Most great players end their careers with a whimper. They set the bar so high in their prime, and by the time they’re ready to retire, they can’t meet the massively high expectations. And careers end with a single game. There’s only one crack at a finale.
But Kobe — who played 20 years; won five championships; won MVP, Finals MVP twice and All-Star MVP four times; made 15 All-NBA teams and 18 All-Star teams — somehow found a way to amaze us once again.
Did the game’s outcome matter? No. Was Utah trying its hardest? No. Was he efficient? No.
But we’ll still remember that game forever, and that’s what makes it incredible. Kobe figured out what was asked of him that night, and he delivered.