With the exception of watching Steph Curry and the Warriors breaking record after record, the 2015-16 NBA season has been almost unwatchable, particularly if you are a Suns fan. Frankly, other than attending a Suns’ recent home loss against Utah, I cannot recall whether I watched a complete game this season in which the Warriors were not one of the teams.
Then came the final night of the regular season. I had a number of choices as to what I would watch. The Suns were on TV playing a meaningless game against the Clippers, which for some reason they elected to win. I could have watched the juggernaut that the Warriors have become and witness the team break what many thought would be an unbreakable 72 win season. While at it, I could witness Stephen Curry surpassing 400 three pointers in a single season. [Note: Before this year, no one had made even 300 three pointers in a single season.] The NHL Playoffs offered an alternative as they dropped their puck for the playoffs. Since the Coyotes were once again absent from the post season, I had the option of watching what was a thrilling overtime game between my wife’s favorite, the Blackhawks, and the St Louis Blues.
But, for whatever reason, I locked in on Kobe’s last game. For the record, I am NOT a Kobe fan. I don’t know any self-respecting Suns fan who would be a Kobe fan. Kobe has made it clear over the years that he doesn’t like us very much either. Nonetheless, I tuned in to ESPN 2 at 7:30 and watched the pregame videos of an assortment of NBA stars praising Kobe, some of whom may secretly not be fond of him. Many of the entertainment industry and Hollywood’s elite had turned out to bear witness, from Jay-Z to Jack Nicholson. I watched a bizarre rendition of the Star Spangled Banner performed by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was followed by possibly the most inept first six minutes of any basketball game I had seen in ages, including Kobe going 0-5 from the field.
Everyone on the court as well as the 19,000+ fans in attendance and almost everyone watching on TV knew that the ball was going to Kobe. To their credit, Coach Quinn Snyder had the Jazz playing in Kobe’s face for the entire game. So the combination of age, attention and hard defense combined to create a moment where we were about to see a player of great talent be found to have stuck around a few games more than he should have.
And then a Hollywood moment erupted. Kobe rose above the twenty years of wear and tear on his body. He ignored the fatigue in his legs, which at one point caused him to throw up an air ball from the three point line. Kobe decided that he would not go quietly into that good night. He willed his body to do what no player in any sport has ever done in his final game, launching a staggering fifty shots and scoring an astounding sixty points. He singlehandedly lifted the Lakers to an otherwise meaningless victory. For those last 48 minutes of basketball, Kobe embodied every form of himself, from the cocky high schooler who decided to “take his talents” to the NBA, to the aloof teammate, to the Black Mamba, to the elder statesman. He showed us that greatness is something well beyond the tangibles.
If someone submitted this storyline as a script, no one would have found it to be plausible. But then again, Hollywood produced Rocky IV, when Rocky Balboa took on and defeated Ivan Drago. If you remember the awful ending, Rocky addressed the Russian crowd with the following ridiculous dialogue: “During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”
I couldn’t believe it when I found myself thinking about Kobe and asking myself: “If I can change…” For one night, I got caught up in the Hollywood ending to a brilliant (although despised) career, I can’t help admitting that for this one night, I rooted for Kobe and I saluted his career.
By the way, I still hate the Lakers.