On This Day: NBA Legend Kobe Bryant Plays His Final Game in 2016

by Josh Lanier

For 20 years, Kobe Bryant demanded a level of excellence of himself and teammates that bordered on the pathological. He was relentless. He was a great player with a better work ethic than you. So, anyone who stood against him was at a steep disadvantage.

His competitive drive made the game fun for fans to watch and for him to play. He smiled big when he got someone to fall for his step-back fadeaway or over-commit to a crossover. And so, on his final night as a Laker five years ago today at the Staples Center — the House that Kobe Built — Bryant proved again just far ahead he was of his competition.

Players and team officials guessed Bryant would score 30 points in that final performance against the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Times reported. That would have been an average night for him. They figured he wanted to just have fun and keep it simple. Bryant wouldn’t go out like that.

It was fitting that Kobe Bryant spent his 20-year career in LA because this final performance was cinematic. He had 22 points at halftime but wasn’t shooting well — just 35 percent from the field. More importantly, the Lakers were down 57-42, according to ESPN. After the third quarter he had 30 points, but the Lakers were still down 12.

The Mamba Strikes in the Fourth Quarter

Bryant wasn’t going to go out on a loss. So, he got to work.

In the fourth quarter, Bryant scored 17 straight points. The Lakers were back in this game. Kobe with less than a minute left, drilled a three-pointer to close the gap to one point. After the Jazz missed their next shot, Bryant took the ball and drained a long two-pointer to give the Lakers a 98-97 lead. Bryant has 58 points.

The Jazz miss again on their next possession. The Lakers inbound the ball to Bryant, and the Jazz send him to the stripe. He drains the first free throw. Then hits the second to finish the night with 60 points.

The game went late. Fans on the East Coast are awake well past 1 a.m. to watch the impossible. Bryant – again — lifted the Lakers onto his shoulders and carried them to a win. Los Angeles Lakers 101, Utah Jazz 96.

Basketball fans across the world are glued to the performance. NBA stars are too.

LeBron James tweets “UNBELIEVABLE MAN!!!! #MAMBADAY.” Dirk Nowitzki says “(Bryant’s) our Michael Jordan for my generation. He is one of the best to lace them up.”

Kevin Durant tweets, “60 piece. Mamba Out.”

Magic Johnson tweets it’s “the greatest final performance that I’ve ever seen in sports!”

Millions agreed with that sentiment.

Kobe Bryant Thanks Family In Final Speech

After the game, Kobe Bryant took center court for the final time as a Laker to thank the fans and say goodbye. He especially wanted to thank his wife and daughter.

“This has been, this has been absolutely beautiful., I can’t believe it comes to an end. You guys have been absolutely, absolutely beautiful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys,” he said from center court after the game.

“To my family, my wife Vanessa, our daughters Natalia, Gianna, thank you guys for all your sacrifices. All the time I spend in the gym and training, Vanessa holding down the family like the way you have, Vanessa I can’t thank you enough, there is no way I can thank you enough for that. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

“What can I say, Mamba out.”

Bryant’s second act was to start a production company. He wanted to create films and art. His first short, Dear Basketball, won an Oscar. And he had a number of major projects in the works.

But that was over when Kobe Bryant was unexpectedly killed last year in a helicopter crash along with his oldest daughter Gianna and several others. Millions mourned his death.