The Kobe Farewell game was finally here. The demand for tickets of the game had already risen to a record $970 for the cheapest nosebleed seats. The anticipation to watch the Mamba play one final game was comparable to Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals — Jordan’s last game for the Bulls.
The surmounting pressure had to be almost unbearable. The Staples Center was sold out to watch Kobe compete in his final game, not to watch the Lakers finish their final game of the 2015-2016 NBA season.
That certainly didn’t stop the Mamba though. He overcame initial nerves to pull of a 60 point performance!
Shockingly, it wasn’t done in a manner that most would expect. Initially, Bryant was 0/5 from the field in the first six minutes of the game — which included a shot that didn’t even hit the rim. But this was just Kobe’s way of drawing off expectations, in a typical Mamba fashion, to only surprise people later.
Bryant’s 60 point performance would be the highest-scoring performance by a player of any team in the entire NBA season.
Most of Kobe’s success on the court came from his intense hustle and work ethic, also known as the Mamba Mentality, and this game was certainly not the exception. For instance, it is estimated that at the end of the game, Bryant had traveled 2.65 miles — and not like the penalty. He literally ran/jogged/sprinted for 2.65 miles in a 48-minute time period! There is a major difference between just mere running, and running in basketball. In the game, there is still regular running, but then factor in all of the different movement and positioning associated with passing, cutting, and slashing, and it gets much more difficult. It didn’t matter that he was 37. The Mamba played every game like it was his last.
Say what you want, but the majority of Bryant’s success in his final performance came from his shooting. 16 of his shots were unassisted — meaning that when Kobe had the ball, his teammates just got out of the way for him to do his thing. 18 of his shots were contested. It didn’t matter if your hand was touching Bryant’s face, he was still going to find a way to get the ball to go in the little orange rim. 22 of his points scored were made in the paint — challenging the idea that all Kobe did was post-up his defenders. He fought for every point, and it didn’t matter where he was on the court — his goal was to get buckets.
One counter argument would be that shooting was Bryant’s failure of the game — citing that he only made 22/50 of his shots, and in some ways, that is true. But in my opinion, all this does is highlight the incredible confidence of Kobe. In basketball, each shot taken requires confidence.
But of the whole game, many consider Kobe’s most impressing stat to be that he scored 13 unanswered points in the final two minutes. Nothing was going to stop him. He couldn’t leave the league without going out with a bang, and Bryant’s final minutes proved just that.
By the end of the game, the Mamba had accumulated 60 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block — a little taste of everything before he retired. This was a tremendous end to an incredible legacy on the court. “It’s hard to believe it happened this way,” Kobe said right after his final performance. “I’m still shocked about it. … The perfect ending would have been a championship. But tonight was (me) trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time.”
“It’s hard to believe it happened this way. I’m still shocked about it. … The perfect ending would have been a championship. But tonight was (me) trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time.”-Kobe Bryant said right after his final performance
So many athletes focus on starting out well, but there is really something to be said about ending well. Going into a game without anyone’s high expectations is one thing, but to be a 5-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP, the tremendous pressure entering a game might seem unbearable. But Kobe had a secret weapon to combat the incredible pressure, one tool that arguably only two players have ever been able to acquire (Bryant and Michael Jordan). A tool that can be summed up in two words.