A championship win would’ve been perfect. But since the Los Angeles Lakers had had one of their more wretched seasons, Kobe Bryant did the next best thing: He scored 60 points in his last game against Utah Jazz that brought the curtains down on a 20-year-long career. Like Jack Nicholson said, the beauty of the Bryant career was in knowing that America was aware of greatness in their midst, witnessing the legendary guard make each offensive play these last score of seasons. His numbers were flattering of course, coming behind only Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But it’s the high loop of the career graph, and how he was received by his fans, that perhaps made the “Black Mamba” a more likeable figure at the end of his playing days.
Drafted straight out of high school, prodigiously talented and aware of it, Bryant copped early criticism for being a selfish hogger of the ball, reluctant to pass to his team mates. It cost him the goodwill of Shaquille O’Neal no less — though O’Neal was there when LA was bidding Bryant goodbye and hugging him affably. Then there was the sexual assault, the adultery and the admission of wrongdoing, and a civil suit settlement. A stray gay slur and an apology in 2011 meant he was prone to falling, learning and bouncing back; flawed and human but back on track when told off.
But he would stick close to LA — a one-team man for 20 years — win three straight championships at the turn of the millennium, run up gigantic individual scores to set records and entertain millions to become the NBA’s most recognised recent figure. Although injuries had caught up with him, by the end of it all, he had sidled into LA’s mind and heart. So what if they didn’t win the championship; LA had a hero, more real than those they churn out in Hollywood.