Folks more capable than I will analyze, comment on and wax poetic about the Golden State Warriors and their mind-melding 73rd win of the season, about Stephen Curry’s induction into the hallowed 50-45-90 club and his 402 three-point baskets and his 30.0 PPG scoring average and his ridonkulous PER.
I will say this: I watched much of the game in a daze, wondering if this could truly be happening. When the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls finished their romp through the regular season en route to the second of their three championships, I was but two years old. Technically, within my lifetime, I have experienced the two winningest seasons in basketball history, which seems absurd when you realize that basketball has been around for many times the length of my life to date. Coach Steve Kerr said openly that he didn’t expect the 72 win mark to fall, and that he now doesn’t expect the 73 win mark to fall. Frankly, I believe him! The amount of sheer focus and indomitable will required to win 89.024 percent of your games, while each and every opponent gives you its best shot along the way — I don’t see it ever happening again.
And for all those who insist on comparing two different teams (the Bulls and Warriors) from two different eras (the roughhouse 90s and the pace-and-space 2010s) and trumpeting the glories of one team at the expense of the other, I present to you this masterpiece of a quote from Steve Kerr: “First of all, it’s a really hard question to answer — not just because you’re comparing eras, but also because it’s literally tough for me to answer grammatically. I don’t know who ‘we’ is and who ‘they’ are. I’ll just say: If the two teams played each other, there’s no question that we could beat us and they could beat them.” Enough said, especially since my quota of Dubs columns expired about four columns ago, and more basketball history was made last night…
Concurrent with the Warriors reaching the hallowed 73-win plateau was another historic moment, the final game in the storied career of Kobe Bryant. A jaunt down I-5 away at a packed Staples Center, featuring more A-list celebrities than any sporting event I can remember, Kobe Bean Bryant took the floor to an exceedingly warm introduction from Magic Johnson, one of the all-time legends of basketball and arguably the greatest player to wear the purple and gold in the modern era, and proceeded to have a quintessentially Kobe game.
With the entire building urging him on and rescinding their career-long advice of asking Kobe to pass more often, Kobe missed his first five shots before finally sinking an awkward floater midway through the first quarter. Throughout this dreadful season of clunky 3-of-17 shooting performances, Kobe has attempted to balance getting his own buckets with setting up teammates, despite their evident lack of quality (the Los Angeles Lakers lost the most games in franchise history this season).
On Wednesday night? Kobe had no such obligations or qualms. Ever a darling of the alpha-dog club and never really one to pay attention to his efficiency, Kobe decided to shoot his way out of a slump and into retirement, hoisting 20 shots in the first half on the way to 22 points (as a decidedly unfair comparison, Curry only took 24 shots in scoring 46 points). He played all but the last 4.1 seconds of the game, heating up to a ludicrous degree in the fourth quarter, in which he outscored the Jazz 23-21 by himself and nailed his final five shots, including two clutch 3s and a dagger jumper from the right wing that ended up being the deciding points. And in an ironic twist that will be laughed at for generations to come, his final basketball play before checking out was a from-the-backcourt assist to a streaking Jordan Clarkson.
When the confetti and the champagne was mopped up and Shaq had picked his jaw up off the floor of Staples, Kobe Bryant had finished the final game of his NBA career with a monstrous 60 points on a whopping 50 shots, to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. As far as exit interviews go, one could colloquially say that he “nailed it.”
With a celebrity audience featuring NBA peers, but also Jay-Z, Kanye West, the ever-present Jack Nicholson and even his children (who seemed shocked that their old man used to regularly drop points on people like this), Kobe went out on his terms. His victory tour resembled that of Mariano Rivera, another player who was loved by his team’s fans and loathed/feared/detested by opposing fanbases. Suddenly, when faced with the prospect of not facing such a legend anymore, the love starts flowing out of people.
Kobe, who modeled his game, his haircut and his persona after Michael Jordan, who was one of the easiest people in the league to hate through his career (I certainly did my best to), became loved. For one night, Kobe turned back the clock and reminded us why he is a pantheonic player, well worthy of all the accolades that he has received this season. The league will certainly not be the same without him, and I’ll no longer have the ability to root against him with a passion. My entire generation grew up shouting “Kobe” when launching fadeaway jumpers or long threes in pickup basketball — it is astonishing to even consider that the sun has set on that era. He will be missed dearly.
Give Vignesh Venkataraman a hard time for still managing to talk about Warriors in his column at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.