It's been a long time since I last written a sports article. Today, 14 April 2016 (or 13 April 2016 America time), I'd like to write a piece to pay tribute to my all time basketball idol Kobe Bryant on his final NBA game of a sensational 20-year basketball career.
I started watching basketball since I was 9 years old when I first saw it on our newly subscribed Astro ESPN sports channel (back then was channel 81). The first team that attracted me was the team in purple and gold with Kobe, Shaq, Glen Rice, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher. It was the Shaq-Kobe era. Kobe's silky smooth fade-away jumpers and aggressive, sometimes possessive style of play got me glued to the TV in awe. I might have missed the Jordan era but to pick up watching basketball from the Shaq-Kobe era wasn't a bad deal at all.
Notorious for his unwillingness to pass the ball, Kobe tends to take the game to himself. It is not rare to see him rack up 40 plus field goal attempts in a game and scoring over 45 points. His most amazing scoring feat is non other than the 81-point-game against the Raptors in which he single-handedly brought the Lakers to win after trailing for 3 quarters of the game. He did it again today against the Jazz at Staples Centre, on his final ever NBA game.
The game started off with Magic Johnson paying a special tribute to Kobe, followed by the final tribute video of the season as The Number 24 was being introduced to the starting lineup for the final time.
The game was all set up for Kobe's final showdown and he did not disappoint. For those who watch the Lakers game this season, Kobe has been playing more of a facilitator role and did not demand the ball as much as he used to. He was also rested for almost half of the games in order for him to stay fit and fresh for every game that he has left for the season. Today however, he let loose and played like his old self, calling for the ball on almost every possession and racked up the field goal attempts early in the half. As a Laker fan, I don't really care whether he makes those shots. I just want to see his moves - the fade away mid-range jumper, the Olajuwon dream shake, the hard drive to the basket, the ridiculously impossible 3-point shot from the corner...for one last time.
Throughout the game, Kobe has scored and missed many shots with a couple of air balls in the second half. But that did not stop him from shying away from the ball. The team was trailing by double digits and fatigue began to creep in late into the 3rd quarter. Half way into the 4th, you can see from his panting and perspiration that he was worn out at the final stretch of the game.
With Lakers trailing by 8 going into the final 2 minutes, he somehow willed his way to score the next 11 points to bring the Lakers back within 1 point with a pull-up jumper from beyond the arc. The Jazz missed their shot in the following possession. Everybody in the crowd was chanting Kobe for the ball. And so he did. Trailing 95-96, The Mamba bringing it down the floor with the clock winding down, a familiar sight for Laker fans. Julius Randle was quick out of the blocks to set a pick and Kobe recognized the play, hovered over the 3-point arc and opted the reverse route away from the pick. Catching the defender off guard, Kobe found himself wide open as the other defender couldn't switch in time. Instinctively he pulled up from 20 - nothing but net! The crowd went wild as the Lakers took the lead and it was this man again!
The Jazz could not follow up with a basket in their next possession and shot clock was turned off as Kobe got the ball. They had to foul him and with God knows how many ounces left in his tank, he buried two clutch free throws to clinch the victory. At the end of the night, Kobe Bryant, at 37, on his final NBA game, finished with an incredible, unbelievable 60-points. What a way to end your career.
Yes, Michael Jordan in his final game did it with a championship ring. Although the Lakers are not that fortunate, I guess this is the next best way to end your career. As Kobe exited the court with 4.1 seconds left, a full minute standing ovation. And my most touching moment was to see him and Shaq hugged before he went on to his team mates.
Such an amazing moment and the atmosphere was just surreal. I can't imagine how it is like to be at the game live. It is a moment that will stay forever.
At the end of the game, Kobe thanked the fans who has always willed him on to push his limits, his team mates and his family who made the necessary sacrifices for him to achieve his career goals. Just gratitude after gratitude. As a fan, I am really thankful for all of the work that you put on the court. I am most amazed by your will power to succeed and your relentless effort to keep trying and trying. The way you recovered from your nasty injuries and continued to play at basketball's elite level was just unbelievable.
Thank you Kobe Bryant, for being a true Laker to a true Laker fan.