Kobe Bryant Puts Exclamation Point on Career with Surreal, Epic Finale

LOS ANGELES — The last game of Kobe Bryant’s career—arguably the most lionized in NBA history—began like just about every other game this season: with the Los Angeles Lakers stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, handicapped by a flimsy screen-door defense and a predictable offensive attack. 

But for one unforgettable, mind-boggling night, Bryant washed a season’s worth of negativity under a rug. The final points of his illustrious career were two game-sealing free throws to give himself 60 points (on a career-high 50 shots) and the Lakers a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz. It was all a fever dream, 48 minutes of unprecedented glory in front of a hyperventilating Staples Center crowd that didn't know what to do with itself.

None of it made sense, and none of it had to.

The festivities got off to a slow start. After missing his first five shots, Bryant drove left, pump-faked his defender into the air and launched a crescent-moon floater that nearly kissed the shot clock before falling through the rim. His next four shots were picture perfect, each bolder than the last. On a dime, the night morphed into the final scene of Bryant’s real life biopic.  

"I had a little bit of nerves," he said afterward. "Once the game got going a little bit, I was able to settle down."

Late in the first quarter, Bryant drew a three-shot foul on Jazz guard Rodney Hood. He played the entire first quarter and finished the half with 22 points on 20 shots. (Every other Laker had 21 attempts combined in that time.)

It was a vintage, uncompromising Mamba reminding his audience why they fell in love with him in the first place. In his last game, Bryant was the best player on the floor and flawless down the stretch. He hit shot after shot after shot in the fourth quarter, and to his adoring fans, it was beautiful.

"He was...

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