by Elvis Lau
Tick. Tick. Tick. 7:30PM. I grab a drink, plop down on the couch, and flip on the TV. It’s April 13, and the NBA regular season is about to conclude with two very special matchups, one between the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, and the other between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies.
For the Lakers and Jazz matchup, this marks the final time Kobe Bryant steps onto court as a Laker. Having watched him play countless times throughout his 20-year career—practically universalizing a franchise—seeing him as #24 for the final time is definitely bittersweet. As he steps onto the court, fans, celebrities, and former Lakers alike cheer him on. Then, as he is introduced by Magic Johnson, a video clip of various NBA players is presented to congratulate him on all of his career accomplishments. It feels good to see superstars like Lebron James and the reigning MVP Stephen Curry recognize the impact that the Black Mamba has made on basketball; it is like paying homage to a founding father, a revolutionary figure.
As for the Warriors, this team is fighting for a chance to break the Chicago Bulls’ 20-year record of 72 wins and 10 losses in a regular NBA season—a phenomenal feat. Playing at Oracle Arena against a team they have won against in all of their matchups this season, I expect this to be yet another easy win.
When the Lakers game finally begins, I prepare for a mediocre performance by Kobe Bryant; this season, he has shot at a horrifically low percentage, albeit his high usage rate. And indeed, he misses his first five shot attempts. This is not turning out to be the memorable game I was hoping for. But then he makes five in a row, and finishes the first quarter with 15 points. Not bad at all.
I flip back to the Warriors, and as expected, they already have a double-digit lead over the Grizzlies. During the second quarter, Stephen Curry makes three 3-pointers within one minute, igniting the crowd and stretching the Warriors’ lead even more. Even for Curry, this is impressive. He shoots so quick and from so far that nobody can defend his shots. By halftime, the Warriors are up 70-50. If they can’t pull through and break the record now, then the Warriors may as well return their championship rings from last season.
When the third quarter begins, the Lakers are trailing behind the Jazz 42-57. I’m concerned for Kobe because I really don’t want to see him lose the last game of his illustrious career. Good thing he’s picked up his pace and is scoring consistently now—all of his teammates are passing the ball to him, forcing him to shoot in just about every possession. Usually, I would not be satisfied with this game plan, but since it’s Kobe’s last night, I’m more than thrilled to see him put on one final performance.
It’s the fourth quarter. The Lakers are still down. This can’t be happening. Even though Kobe is scoring point after point, the Jazz are holding up. 10 minutes left—closer. 6 minutes—even closer. With a minute left, the Lakers are trailing by less than 5. Suddenly, Kobe hits a 3-pointer to bring the Lakers within 1 point. Then, he hits another, and the Lakers are now leading! As time winds down, the Lakers should be able to hold the lead. 14 seconds—Kobe makes 2 free throws. With 10 seconds left, the Jazz miss a layup, and the Lakers rebound the ball. 8 seconds—Kobe finds Jordan Clarkson racing down the court, throws an assist, and Clarkson slams the ball down, sealing the win for the Lakers, 101-96.
What a game! From trailing for just about the whole 48 minutes, the Lakers were able to come back at the very end as Kobe Bryant carried his team to victory. It felt something like a revisiting of his glory days, a flash of the unstoppable Black Mamba that once dominated the game of basketball.
In fact, Bryant finished the game with 60 points, the fifth-highest scoring performance of his career, and became the oldest player ever to score over 50 points in a game; he hadn’t scored that high since 2009. For somebody who’d played for 20 seasons and sustained multiple injuries, this was an incredible performance by Kobe.
With the Lakers game over, I flip back to the Warriors v. Grizzlies game to check if Golden State has won. Not surprisingly but reassuringly, the final score is 125-104. The Warriors had not given up their lead even once, only built upon it. Stephen Curry, their leading scorer, scored 46 points, including ten 3-pointers. These 3-pointers boosted his season-threes to 402, the most ever made by an NBA player in one season.
After the games are over and I head to bed, the two matchups are still on my mind. They feel surreal, like a fantasy. 60 points. 73 wins. The end of a 20-year career. The breaking of a 20-year record. The closing of a legend’s book. The beginning of a franchise’s new story. There could not have been a better finale