Kobe Bryant walks away from the Lakers and the NBA after scoring 60 points in his final career game.
A magical record belongs to Golden State Warriors, possibly forever. And yet on the night when the defending NBA champions completed the greatest regular season in league history, Kobe Bryant overshadowed the Warriors by saying goodbye in the most spectacular fashion.
Bryant closed out his legendary career by scoring 60 points in front of a star-studded crowd at Staples Center on Wednesday. It was his sixth game of at least 60 points and it came just moments after the Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104 to finish with a 73-9 record.
The number 73 is now the standard for excellence for an NBA regular season as well as a number that will forever be associated with the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors. Get used to seeing it because the Warriors 73-9 record is a mark is right up there with Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game as records that will never be broken.
Jordan, Phil Jackson and the rest of the 1995-96 Bulls held the record for 20 years. It’s hard to imagine any team challenging that mark, especially in an era when many star players view the regular season as nothing more than a tune-up for the playoffs.
It is hard to imagine any team breaking the Warriors 73-9 record, or a player eclipsing Stephen Curry’s 402 threes in a season.
The Warriors, however, were different. Instead of falling victim to a championship hang over, Steve Kerr’s team chased history and now stands alone. They will open defense of their title this weekend with a first-round series against the Houston Rockets and if the Warriors repeat they will go down as one of the greatest teams ever.
If they fail to fwin back-to-back titles, the knock will be that the Warriors wasted too much energy focusing on a record that isn’t as important as winning a title. However, they will go into the playoffs as the prohibitive favorites. In fact the Warriors went 14-1 against the best teams; San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Toronto and the Clippers.
One of their nine losses, coincidentally, came against the woeful Lakers who finished with the league’s second-worst record. It was at times a trying farewell tour for Bryant, whose body and skills had diminished considerably.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was also a member of the 1995-96 Bulls.
But on Wednesday, in his last game in his 20th season, Kobe went out shooting. Bryant took 50 shots, making 22 including a pull-up jumper with 31.6 seconds remaining that gave the Lakers the lead for good. His final two points came from the foul line, where he finished 10 of 12. He was 6 of 21 on three’s.
“Go figure,” he told his wife Vanessa after the Lakers 101-96 win.
Bryant exited to a standing ovation with 4.1 seconds left and later addressed the crowd, joking that for so many years’ fans and teammates were yelling at him to pass but on this night he was being ordered to shoot. It was a bit of a sideshow, not question about it. But Kobe did score 23 points in the fourth quarter and 38 in the second half as the Lakers rallied from a double digits deficit.
Bryant, fist-bumps daughter Gianna after the game.
They finished 17-65 yet Bryant went out a winner. And he was barely able to stand as his teammates, current and former, embraced him.
“What else can I say, Mamba out,” Kobe said.
A few hundred miles north, Stephen Curry watched the fourth quarter of the Warriors historic victory from the bench.
Curry scored 46 points on 24 shots. He also converted 10 of 19 three-pointers, giving him an NBA record 402 for the season. It might be a while before that record is broken as well. Of course, the one guy that could do it is Curry.
Kobe is no longer a threat, however, to Curry or Jordan. He’s left the building for good. And he did it by leaving everyone breathless. Only he can make 60 greater than 73.