April 13th was called Mamba Day to honor NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant’s last day of playing professional basketball. The Staples Center drowned in a sea of purple and gold as fans participated in celebratory activities prior to the night’s game.
Meanwhile the man of honor donned all black. Strolling towards the Lakers locker room a step ahead of a multitude of cameras. Bryant met with former teammate and head coach Byron Scott for an embrace and a few words. They had talked about how this game prior to that moment. Scott wanted to give Bryant as many minutes and shots he can handle.
“Once the game starts, the objective is still the same, we want to win,” Scott said. “But, also be mindful of 24 out there and how he’s playing.”
After all the NBA franchises gave Bryant tributes, the Los Angeles Lakers showed their appreciation for the 20-year veteran.
“He has never cheated us as the fans, he’s played through injuries,” said NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson during the pre-game tribute. “He played hurt and we have five championship banners to show for it.”
Moments prior to the game, the first of many tribute videos began. The video showed a teen-aged Kobe Bryant standing with former NBA commissioner David Stern the night of the 1996 NBA draft, then footage of a young Kobe being interviewed by iconic Lakers sportscaster Chick Hearn and highlights of his best moments throughout his career.
During timeouts and in between quarters, tribute videos played. NBA stars like steph curry and Kevin Garnett explained how Bryant impacted the NBA. NFL stars like Richard Sherman and Odell Beckham jr showed their support.
Former teammates shared their well wishes and compliments. Derrick Fisher and Pau Gasol were welcomed by the rooting and cheering of the crowd. Many noted his competitive and intense style of game play.
At the end of the game, Bryant addressed the crowd at the Staples Center.
“I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by,” said Bryant. “To be standing here at center court with you guys, my teammates behind me, I appreciate the journey that we’ve been on,”
The Utah Jazz dominated all but the final minutes of the game in the Lakers 17th win this season. Forward Trey Lyles led the Jazz with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bryant scored 60 points and forward Julius Randle earned 9 rebounds.
The Utah Jazz went on a 6-0 run at the beginning of the game. Hibbert built 4-point foundation for Kobe to take the lead. At first, Bryant looked out of rhythm until he blocked a shot made by Booker and ran the other end to make a jumper. The crowd erupted and they would again when Bryant scored a lay-up in the next possession.
Bryant led in scoring out of both teams with 15 points at the end of the first quarter.
Bryant sat through most of the second quarter, while the Lakers trailed. Trey Lyles scored 11points in that period. Bryant replaced Larry Nance jr for the last six minutes. Bryant racked up seven more points by halftime.
Russell and Bryant were the only players to for the entire third quarter. Bryant reached 30 points with 5:36 left in the period. One minute later, Bryant notched up to 35 points within two minutes.
The Lakers trailed 66-75 when the fourth quarter began. With 7:30 left in the game, the Lakers were in a five-points deficit. Clarkson would bring them to a three-point game, but Raul Neto would respond with a field goal.
Chris Johnson was the last person to score for the Jazz with 2:35 left in the game. In the last two minutes of the game, Bryant scored 11 points, giving the Lakers the lead with 99 points. Bryant’s final shot was at the free throw line.
The Jazz called a timeout and several Lakers hugged Bryant as he walked towards the bench. Scott subbed out Bryant for Ryan Kelly and Bryant walked to the sidelines amidst the standing ovation of the roaring crowd.
Bryant’s final game was his twenty-fifth game were he scored at least 50 points.