It’s the first Mamba Day without The Black Mamba himself, after his tragic death earlier this year. In honor of what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 42nd birthday and Mamba Day, for today’s Filling The Void we’re taking a look at his last game in the NBA.
I remember this night, April 13th, 2016, so very well. I was bartending a couple blocks from the Staples Center, where the Los Angeles Lakers were taking on the Utah Jazz. The 2015-16 season was the Lakers franchise’s worst season ever with a record of 17-65. Everyone thought the Jazz were ready to serve the Lakers another loss, but Kobe refused to go out with a loss.
All of Los Angeles was absolutely buzzing. I saw hundreds of purple and gold jerseys and flashes of the numbers “24” and “8” passing by the windows of my bar. The bar started filling up about an hour before the start of the game…and it kept filling up. I remember thinking, “Holy sh*t, I’m glad I backed up all of our liquor”. I put the game on all two of the TVs in the bar, said a prayer for the three of us working that night, and watched history take place.
The game was already emotional then, and re-watching it now is even more intense now that he’s gone. The game was, of course, preceded by a few beautiful tributes to Kobe and his career. From love notes and thank you cards in video form from people like Shaq, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and…Jack Nicholson, to montages of highlights from his career – the pre-game tributes are really worth watching.
“Get KB the Ball”
And boy, did they.
Kobe played the entirety of the first quarter, finishing with 15 of the Lakers’ 19 points. We all know Kobe wasn’t afraid to shoot the basketball, though he certainly shot less later in his career. His last hurrah was like watching vintage Kobe on steroids. And it was amazing. During his final season, Bryant averaged 17.6 points per game. At the end of the first half of this game, he had 22 points.
Every time Bryant took a shot, fans watched with anticipation and reacted with a collective “aww” if he missed, and erupted with elated screams if he made it. It’s really quite magical to watch.
Kobe’s Final Quarter
The Lakers started the fourth quarter with a 9-point deficit, which likely would have been much larger without Bryan’s vintage performance. Kobe scored his 40th point and from that point on, it was raining with shots from the legend. With about a minute left in the game, he hits a 3-pointer bringing the score to 96-95, Utah. This gave Kobe 56 points in the game, and brought everyone to their feet. I burst into tears watching this moment, first because it was just incredible to witness. But then, the camera pans to Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and their daughters, including Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash with Kobe. Gianna’s face was lit up with so much love and pride and my heart ached.
The last minute of the game was amazing – Kobe hit a jumper to give the Lakers the lead, and hit a pair of free throws for 60 points in the game and the win. The stuff absolute legends are made of.
The Perfect Farewell
This game could not have gone any more perfectly. I’m glad I re-watched it, because I remembered it as the most stressful day of my life at the bar. I was soaked in booze, had to chase drunk Lakers fans who tried to run out on their tabs, and could hardly pay any attention to the game. Now, I’ve released that memory, and have replaced it as one of the most incredible performances from one of the greatest players of all time.
I don’t think Bryant himself could have imagined a more perfect way to end his career. It’s an emotional watch, but so worth it.
Happy Mamba Day, and happy birthday to an NBA legend.
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