In his NBA send-off, Kobe Bryant scored 60 points for the sixth time in his career, leading the Lakers to a 101-96 comeback win over the Jazz in Los Angeles.
We knew Kobe was leaving, but wow, what a way to go.
“He did the most Kobe of things,” NBC ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Yeah, it took 50 shots to get to 60 points, but a large percentage of his shots are going to be contested. Those were not clean looks, and still at the end of the day, he found a way to put up the numbers and get the win. It was kind of a classic Kobe performance: It wasn’t always pretty, but he got the job done and the fans loved it.”
Bryant scored 17 points in a row in the final minutes, leading the Lakers back from the brink in an otherwise meaningless game.
“It was crazy,” Helin said. “It was something he talked about a little bit after the game. This was a guy who spent his career cultivating the villain image. He fueled himself with people not liking him – he’d make up stuff to get that fuel – and it was different for him to kind of ride a positive wave of love. This was a crowd there to celebrate him and to celebrate all things Kobe. It’s kid of strange. He ate it up and he was able to ride that wave to what will be one of his most memorable nights.”
Bryant averaged 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 66 games this year and became more affable as the season progressed. He became more open.
“We’re different when we’re 37 than when we’re 21 or 25,” Helin said. “I think he’s always kind of had this side. I think he just opened up to us more. He kind of was willing to show that side of himself more this year.”
Of course, it helped that the Lakers (17-65) finished with the worst record in the West and the second-worst record in the NBA.
“They were terrible,” Helin said. “If they had been in the playoff hunt tonight, if this game had mattered or they were on their way to the playoffs, he would have been ultra-competitive Kobe still. But because this team was so bad, he just kind of accepted it and accepted the ride that was going to be the farewell tour.”
Bryant won five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and was named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 seasons. In the end, how will he be remembered?
“In my mind, he’s going to always be one of the handful of most fierce competitors this game has ever seen,” Helin said. “He got as much out of his body and was as driven and as motivated to win and as obsessed with winning as (guys like) Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Bill Russell. There were a handful of guys like that. I think Kobe’s in the pantheon (of those players). That’s how we’ll remember him.”