ESPN will re-air Kobe Bryant's final game tonight at 9pm. The game against the Utah Jazz originally took place on April 13, 2016. The game is worth reliving, not so much because of Kobe's 60-point finale, but because of the feeling surrounding it.
The Lakers' 2015-2016 season was a mess. Roy Hibbert started 81 games for the team. The second leading scorer was Jordan Clarkson. Kobe was third on the team in assists with 2.8 per game. 19 year old D'Angelo Russell averaged 13/3/3. Nick Young was dating Iggy Azalea at the time. Metta World Peace would play one more season for the Lakers before retiring. The only bright spot was Kobe's retirement tour. Looking back, it was more important than anyone could have imagined at the time.
Kobe toured America for five-plus months as fans and opponents told him how much he meant to them. The season finale against the Jazz was the culmination of that tribute. Shaq, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, Dirk Nowitzki, and Phil Jackson all appeared in a video telling him how great it was to play with and against him. Magic Johnson stood at center court at the Staples Center and called him the greatest Laker ever. At the end of two full decades, the NBA said goodbye to Kobe Bryant and they didn't have a clue.
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Imagine if Kobe didn't announce his plans to retire. What if we erased this season-long send-off from history? None of these tributes make what happened any easier on anyone, but at least you know that Kobe knew he meant a lot to the sport of basketball. Because people made a point to tell him on that final time around.
It's not something that normal people get to do. It's not even something most athletes get to do. Kobe was lucky that he was in a position to share that with his friends and family back then. Retirement tours are awesome and important and any great player with a plan to retire should announce it and be honored because you never know.
As for the game, Kobe made 22 of 50 field goal attempts, including 6-of-21 from three. The first three quarters were a perfect encapsulation of his final season. Kobe had only scored 30+ points five times that year. He averaged 17.6 points per game and shot a career-low 36% from the field. It was an up and down year as he dealt with injuries and the fact that he was about to turn 38.
The the fourth quarter happened. Kobe went crazy, scoring 23 points on 16 attempts and making three of five three-pointers. He also had three of his four assists in the final quarter. It was the final, clinching point in the argument of anyone who believed Kobe was the definition of clutch.
Overall, the game wasn't perfect, but it was a testament to Kobe who was the human embodiment of the belief that you could shoot your way out of any slump. His final game wasn't perfect, but it was epic and memorable. It was the final game of a true gunslinger. It was Kobe's tribute to Kobe-- and it will always be worth remembering.