Here’s the joke. Knock knock. Who’s there? Chris Webber is not in the Hall of Fame.
C Webb has been eligible for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for like half a decade. Guys have to wait, I know. His first year, he did not get one nomination. This is absolutely disrespectful to Webber’s impact on the game.
We know about his ultra famous time out in college. The moment has become his signature play, along side dunking over Barkley. He was often injured. He never played in the NBA Finals. Truth is, his playoff career was “only” very good.
Chris was one of the top college players ever. He is also an all time NBA great. That’s enough. He’s in. The level you hit, is often the only thing a voter should need. I spent 1999 to 2002 devouring the NBA. I watched four plus games a night (smh, I know). This was Webber’s heyday. I thought over the first half of the 2000-01 season, Chris was the best player in the world. He was the center piece of those, ahead of their time Sacramento Kings teams. I remember Chris on a bum leg, trying to guard Shaq in game seven of the West Finals. I can see him digging that forearm into the big man. His other arm, waving to the crowd, begging them to get excited about it.
His hands were like magnets. Webber was one of the very best passers to play. He dropped circus dimes. He had patience under the rim, and had a cool way of using his shoulders. This era, was super competitive for him. The power forward was evolving and peaking in league wide depth. At worst, Webber was a low-level great.
Basketball reference is the only place I go for stats. It’s an awesome site. They have a section where it projects what percent chance a player has to get into the Hall of Fame. I asked Jay Yeomans today (jmoneysports.com) what percent chance he thought Webber had? His response was “90.” Sounded right to me.
The answer? 14.6 percent! Huh? I’d assign Ron Harper, or Kenny Smith that number.
Kevin Johnson is at 19 percent, and Mark Price 18.3. They both are close to Hall level, and Webber was better than both. Chauncey Billups is at 84.4 percent. Um. Chris was better than him too, That Finals MVP award must carry serious weight.
On TNT a few years back a handful of guys were picking out of a pool of all time stars, like a fantasy draft. Webber was one of the guests on the panel. Duncan, Dirk, and KG had been chosen and were off the board. It was getting late and a little awkward as Chris had not been taken. C Webb had to stick up for himself a bit. “I’m cool with those guys going ahead of me. But I promise you Tim, Kevin, and Dirk know me real well.” Truth. Webber’s last pick of the draft? He ended up taking himself.
The Hall factors in what you did in college and international play. His NBA experience should be enough. He better get that invite in 2019. There have been scandals surrounding Michigan and Webber at that time so his, success has been kind of “erased.” That time out never happened then either.
This is not an all time list. It’s not even a “my time” list. There are several players I watched that I did not include (Kareem. Moses, and more). I wanted to focus on those I felt I saw at their best. It’s a challenge not to list about 125 guys. Here are the 35 I’d claim are the best I’ve seen to date. Kyrie, Dominique, and Alonzo Mourning just missed the cut.
#35- TRACY MCGRADY – If you can score 13 points in 35 seconds to beat the Spurs, you’re hired.
#34- JAMES WORTHY– I picture him waving the ball around like it’s a grape fruit. First step, spin move, two points.
#33- PAUL PIERCE- I always thought of Paul as a grind it out, low-level superstar. In the end, he had a phenomenal career.
#32- GRANTHILL- He was such a big deal as a new age point forward. As an older player, Grant became a defensive guy.
#31- KEVIN MCHALE– Karl Malone and Charles Barkley both called McHale their toughest matchup. Kevin was a back to the basket stud.
#30- JASON KIDD- Pushing the ball with that hard dribble, J Kidd had eyes everywhere.
#29- CHRIS WEBBER – His hands were basketball magnets. Sensational passer. Chris hit the top five player level in the pros.
#28- GARY PAYTON – In his defensive crouch, Palms showing. Rocking his head side to side, and chewing his gum like the cockiest man alive. “The glove” was legit.
#27- JAMES HARDEN – Point flurry’s, step back threes, makes you foul him…Harden is an offensive witch.
#26- RUSSELL WESTBROOK- More than all these triple doubles, Westbrook’s competitive fire is the story.
#25- PATRICK EWING- Patrick had the size, rugged traits, and one of the most elegant shots from the baseline.
#24- SCOTTIE PIPPEN- On six title teams, Pippen ranged anywhere from the third to twelfth best player in the world.
#23- CLYDE DREXLER- Clyde was a classic aerial player and finisher at the basket. Rare Drexler note: He finished in the top ten in steals, seven times.
#22- STEVE NASH- He almost glided as he ran. Nash was a degree of difficulty shot maker, and his percentages are clean.
#21- KAWHI LEONARD- Before he went down with injury last May, I thought Kawhi was ready to challenge LeBron James as the best in the game.
#20- ALLENIVERSON- His blinding quickness, aggressiveness, and long arms made him so unique. Iverson mopped up the floor with his body.
#19- CHRIS PAUL- He competes like he wants to bite your face off. Chris has led the league in steals six times.
#18- JOHN STOCKTON- He destroyed bigger people fighting through picks. John’s precision and decision-making were an art.
#17- ISIAH THOMAS– Isiah played the game like he knew he was being watched. He was a showman, built for the big moment.
#16- CHARLES BARKLEY- He shot 58 percent from the field over his first six seasons. Chuck’s work on the boards is still baffling for his height.
#15- DIRK NOWITZKI- His Finals MVP performance in 2011, is etched in my mind as true greatness. Five players in history have more points than Dirk,
#14- DWYANE WADE- I remember those hesitation dribble moves, before he’d explode to the hoop. Wade was a closer from day one.
#13- DAVID ROBINSON – Robinson was chiseled, mobile, and cat quick. He owns the NBA’s last quadruple-double.
#12- KARL MALONE – “The Mailman” running the outside lane, and rattling the rim in his early days was a scary sight.
#11- KEVIN GARNETT- One of the most versatile players to live. KG wouldn’t even let the other team score, after the whistle.
#10-STEPHEN CURRY- He became the first player to attempt a three point shot from 29 feet….early in the shot clock…and it still felt responsible.
#9- KEVIN DURANT- Looking at Durant’s controversial move a couple years ago, he’s now covered himself by his June performances.
#8- TIM DUNCAN- Tim was a coaches dream. Poise. Brains. Worker. Unselfish. All time winner.
#7- SHAQUILLE O’NEAL- Shaq couldn’t be guarded in his prime. He was an automatic dunk, and led the NBA in field goal percentage ten times.
#6- HAKEEM OLAJUWON- At his apex, his offense and defense were both a ten. He covered space in the blink of an eye.
#5- LARRY BIRD– For all the attributes he brought to the game, Bird also had an intimidating swagger.
#4- KOBE BRYANT- For my money, the most over all skilled player in NBA history.
#3-MAGIC JOHNSON- Most fitting nickname in all of sports.
#2- LEBRON JAMES- Think of the career he has had. LeBron will dominate for at least five more years and it’s mind-blowing.
#1- MICHAEL JORDAN – From what I’ve seen over 32 seasons, Jordan is the clear standard by which basketball excellence is measured.
A common challenge often handed out in pro basketball chatter is to name your “NBA Mount Rushmore”. I assume this means the four players you think were the best, who won the most, and had the largest impact on the sport. I’d ask who you would choose, but it doesn’t work anymore. Too many legends have come through to fill just four spots.
I believe there are ten guys with a case SO STRONG, they can’t be left off this massive South Dakota sculpture.
SHAQUILLE O’ NEAL
Smart arguments could also be made for Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Dr. J, and Hakeem. Elgin Baylor or Havlicek would be legit choice for an older fan. I’d get your pioneer angle if you just had to add Mikan or Cousy. Give KD and Steph some more years of domination, and wow. I know it’s just for fun, but we need a bigger mountain.
I get it. You are probably in your mid twenties and have heard about Jordan your entire life. You respect the idea of him, but also maybe feel like he’s been pushed on you as the greatest by your Father, and ESPN. It’s a new day, and different narratives are being created about what Jordan was or was not. Many of these voices were too young to have seen Mike play in real-time. I’m here to help by telling you the truth. Jordan was even better than the hype. MJ is not a romantic idea people over 42 can’t get over because they are sentimental. He really happened, and it wasn’t that long ago. He’s not the name in the sport because of a cool logo and a wildly popular shoe. Michael’s that big, because the level he attained was that stunning. Jordan played basketball as well as anyone has ever done anything. He mastered his craft. He was Michael Jackson on stage, good.
These 40 points will help deliver my message.
#40- IN ELEVEN COMPLETE SEASONS WITH THE BULLS, JORDAN LED THE NBA IN TOTAL POINTS ELEVEN TIMES.
#39- OVER THE LAST 53 YEARS, ONE MAN HAS SCORED 3,000 POINTS IN A SEASON. MIKE!
#38- 40 POINT GAMES? THE GREAT SHAQUILLE O’NEAL HAD 49 OF THEM IN HIS CAREER. MJ HAD 37 OF THEM…..IN 1987.
#37- “I’M NOT SURE PEOPLE REALIZE HOW GOOD THIS GUY WAS. HE WAS THE BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER, THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER, THE BEST COMPETITOR. IF THERE IS EVER GOING TO BE SOMEONE GREATER, WE WILL ALL BE SCRATCHING OUR HEADS.” (Jerry West)
#36- MOST 30 POINT PLAYOFF GAMES (109), MOST 40 POINT PLAYOFF GAMES (38) AND MOST 50 POINT PLAYOFF GAMES(8).
#35- MANY PLAYERS FROM THE JORDAN ERA HAVE SAID IT WAS COMMON KNOWLEDGE THROUGH OUT THE NBA, TO NOT RILE MICHAEL UP. THE UNWRITTEN RULE WAS TO NOT TALK TO HIM. SOME WENT AS FAR AS AVOIDING LOOKING HIM IN THE EYES.
#34- MJ IS ONE OF THE ELITE SHOT BLOCKING GUARDS OF ALL TIME. AT 6’6″, JORDAN HAD 261 BLOCKS FROM 1986 to 1988 ALONE.
#33- HE WAS DURABLE. JORDAN NEVER MISSED A PLAYOFF GAME (179). HE SCORED 20 POINTS PLUS IN 97 PERCENT OF THOSE CONTESTS.
#32- OVER A FOUR GAME STRETCH OF THE 1993 FINALS…MICHAEL SCORED….42….44….55….AND 41 POINTS. HATERS WILL SAY HE WAS SHOOTING MORE THAN OTHERS….NO. THE RIGHT GUY WAS SHOOTING.
#31- SUGGESTION? “YOU TUBE” HIS PASSING SKILLS. HE WAS 8TH IN THE NBA IN ASSISTS IN 1989.
#30- JORDAN WAS THE BEST MID RANGE JUMP SHOOTER I’VE EVER SEEN.
#29- WITH HIS FIRST CRACK AT A FINALS IN 1991, MICHAEL PUT ON A PASSING CLINIC AND AVERAGED 11.4 DIMES IN THE SERIES. IN GAME 2…HE MADE 13 SHOTS IN A ROW.
#28- OVER HIS FIRST SEVEN YEARS, HIS LOWEST FREE THROW PERCENATGE WAS 84.0%
#27- HE AVERAGED 8 REBOUNDS A NIGHT IN 1989. NOT BAD FOR THE BEST IN GAME DUNKER OF ALL TIME (If you prefer Vince, it’s all good).
#26- JORDAN HAD HUGE HANDS. THE ADVANTAGE WAS CATCHING BETTER, PASSING BETTER, AND BEING A PUMP FAKING PUPPETEER. HE COULD TAKE THE BALL DIRECTLY FROM THE DRIBBLE TO ATTACKING THE RIM.
#25- NO OTHER PLAYER HAS AVERAGED OVER 30 POINTS IN THE PLAYOFFS FOR A CAREER. MJ AVERAGED 33.4
#24- JORDAN TOOK THE BALL AWAY CONSTANTLY. HE LED THE LEAGUE IN STEALS THREE TIMES, CAME IN SECOND TWICE, THIRD TWICE, AND FOURTH TWICE.
#23- HIS FOOT SPEED, QUICKNESS, AND HANG TIME WERE INSANE.
#22- IN THE SPRING OF 1989, MICHAEL PLAYED POINT GUARD AND HAD 10 TRIPLE DOUBLES IN AN 11 GAME SPAN. ESSENTIALLY HE HAD 36 PERCENT OF HIS CAREER TRIPLE DOUBLE TOTAL IN THREE WEEKS, BECAUSE HIS COACH ASKED HIM TO.
#21- HIS PLAYER EFFICIENCY RATING IS THE BEST EVER IN THE REGULAR SEASON, PLAYOFFS, AND FINALS.
#20- “WATCHING HIM AND PLAYING AGAINST HIM WERE MUCH DIFFERENT. I LEARNED A LOT THIS GAME….HOW TECHNICALLY SOUND HE WAS. HIS FUNDAMENTALS AND TECHNIQUE WERE FLAWLESS.” (Kobe Bryant after his first matchup with MJ).
#19- HE WAS THE REAL KING OF NEW YORK. THE BULLS HAD A HEATED RIVALRY WITH THE KNICKS. IT WAS SO PERSONAL AND PHYSICAL. MICHAEL WON ALL FIVE SERIES HE PLAYED AGAINST THEM. JORDAN WAS A DREAM KILLER.
#18- MIKE DIDN’T HAVE THREE POINT PROBLEMS. THE SHOT WAS NOT NEAR AS CALLED FOR IN HIS ERA. HE WON REGULAR SEASON, PLAYOFF, AND FINALS GAMES WITH THREES. HE HIT SIX TRIPLES IN A FINALS HALF, WITHOUT A MISS. TIMING MATTERS.
#17- IN 1996, ON A 87-13 TEAM (OVERALL), MICHAEL WAS 11TH IN THE NBA IN THREE POINT SHOOTING PERCENTAGE(42.7%). HE WAS EVEN GOOD AT THE THINGS PEOPLE SAY HE COULDN’T DO.
#16- NOBODY HAD BETTER STYLE AND CREATIVITY THAN JORDAN. IT’S NOT JUST THAT HE WOULD SCORE 10 QUICK POINTS, IT’S THAT EIGHT OF THEM WERE ELECTRIC SHOWTIME.
#15- MJ SCORED 51 AND 45 IN BACK TO BACK GAMES….AS A WASHINGTON WIZARD.
#14- “MICHAEL WAS SO DOMINANT, PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY, I ALWAYS GOT THE SENSE EVERYONE WAS AFRAID OF HIM. THE OPPONENTS, THE REFEREES, HIS TEAMMATES. HE WAS JUST SO DOMINANT WITH HIS PRESENCE.” (Steve Kerr)
#13- THE MIAMI HEAT RETIRED JORDAN’S NUMBER. HE DID NOT PLAY FOR THE HEAT. HE WAS JUST THAT BAD ASS.
#12- IN EACH OF HIS COMPLETE SEASONS BETWEEN 1987 AND 1997 MICHAEL LED THE NBA IN WIN SHARES. HE WAS ALSO SECOND TWICE. HE LOOKS THE SAME UNDER COOL MODERN STATS AS WELL.
#11- A BIG TIME NBA SCORER MAY SCORE OVER 50 POINTS, THREE OR FOUR TIMES IN A CAREER. “AIR JORDAN” DROPPED 50 PLUS…39 TIMES. HE SCORED OVER 60, FIVE TIMES.
#10- VERY FEW WOULD ADMIT IT THEN, BUT JORDAN WAS BETTER THAN MAGIC AND BIRD EVEN BEFORE HE WON BIG. THAT SAID….IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE HOW GOOD MAGIC AND BIRD WERE.
#9- EVERY GAME THAT JORDAN PLAYED, HE WAS EXPECTED TO LIVE UP TO HIS OWN MASSIVE STANDARDS. I ADMIRE HOW OFTEN HE ROSE TO THE OCCASION. HIGH STAKES EXPOSED HIS GREATNESS.
#8- HE HAD POWER, SUPREME FOOTWORK, AND A DYNAMITE POST GAME.
#7- MJ DID THE DIRTY WORK TOO. HE DID ALL THE SMALL THINGS THAT ANY GUY ON THE END OF THE BENCH WOULD DO. WHEN HIS SHOT WAS NOT FALLING, HE WAS GOOD AT SIMPLIFYING THINGS.
#6- IN THE FINALS HE WAS A 33.6 POINT, 6 REBOUND, 6 ASSIST GUY. HE DOMINATED ON DEFENSE AND MADE BIG PLAY AFTER BIG PLAY….THAT’S ALL.
#5- NOBODY HAD ENERGY LIKE JORDAN. HE WAS THE MOST RELENTLESS, AGGRESSIVE PLAYER IN THE WORLD. THE LATER THE GAME GOT, THE MORE JUICE HE HAD.
#4- MJ SEEMED TO OFTEN TAKE WHAT HE WANTED WHEN HE WANTED. HE PLAYED WITH FURY AND LASER FOCUS. HIS WILL AND SKILL LEFT HIM THE BEST I’VE EVER SEEN. SEVEN OR EIGHT GUYS HAVE BEEN CLOSE TO AS GOOD….JORDAN WAS THE CLOSEST TO BEING A “TEN”.
#3- COMPARE HIM TO TODAY’S GREATEST WHERE IT MATTERS MOST. LEBRON JAMES…A TOP 5 PLAYER EVER….WHO IS STILL ROLLING….HAS PLAYED 3,300 MORE MINUTES THAN JORDAN….AND HAS THREE LESS RINGS AND FINALS MVP’S. IN A LONGER CAREER, CHANGING TEAMS TWICE IN HIS PRIME, SOMEONE AS ELITE AS JAMES, HAS HALF OF MIKE’S BEST JEWELRY.
#2- PEOPLE UNDER DOING 6-0 IN THE FINALS IS SICKENING. HE PLAYED IN THE 1990’S YOU JOKERS. LET’S JUST SAY THOSE BASKETBALL TEAMS AND TALENT HOLD THEIR OWN COMPARED TO ANY DECADE. HE TOOK DOWN THE 90’S BEST. HE WON 69 PERCENT OF HIS FINALS GAMES. HIS TEAMS WERE GREAT. DON’T GET IT TWISTED…HIS BRILLIANCE AND SYMPHONY OF CLUTCH PLAY….IS WHY….HIS TEAMS WON 25 OF THE LAST 26 PLAYOFF SERIES HE WAS A PART OF.
#1- MJ IN THE LOCKER ROOM….SITTING WITH SCOTTIE PIPPEN AFTER THE 1998 FINALS IN SALT LAKE CITY….”SIX….SIX…..SIX OF THEM…(raising his voice)…SIX OF THEM! YOU ALL CAN SAY WHATEVER YOU WANT…THEY CAN’T WIN UNTIL WE QUIT.”
The original “Dream Team” remains the greatest, most impactful group in basketball history. They are so iconic, they have cast a shadow over a team that could have hung with them on the floor. The 1996 version of Team USA was on the level of the 1992 squad. They are not given much credit for their sensational roster. Even “The Redeem Team” in 2008 gets more love because of their storyline. “Dream Team 3” is the most underrated basketball team of all time.
1992 VERSE 1996 THOUGHTS
I’ts close. I’d guess the 1992 squad would be a two or three point favorite each time. The reason would be Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson, who was still Magic enough. It should be noted Larry Bird had a broken NBA body and was doing Americans a favor by suiting up. Christian Laettner (a good pro) as a rookie would be the worst player on either squad.
1996 UNITED STATES MEN’S OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM
CHARLES BARKLEY (Age 33)
KARL MALONE (Age 33)
JOHN STOCKTON (Age 34)
DAVID ROBINSON (Age 30)
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (Age 30)
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (Age 24)
HAKEEM OLAJUWON (Age 33)
PENNY HARDAWAY (Age 24)
GRANT HILL (Age 23)
GARY PAYTON (Age 28)
REGGIE MILLER (Age 30)
MITCH RICHMOND (Age 31)
COACHES: Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cremins, Clem Haskins
“Dream Team 3” had five players from the 92 group. Then add Shaq at his peak of running fast and jumping high. Next is merely Olajuwon who had just been the best player in the world for two years. Penny and Grant Hill were superstars, right in the middle of putting their versatile stamps on the NBA. Gary Payton was at the top of his game. Reggie Miller had already proven he was a clutch legend. Oh my goodness Mitch Richmond could ball. They won by 32 points a game on the way to gold. This team got lost between the “Dream Team” breaking ground and the “Redeem Team” having to overcome struggle. For how good the 96 team was, it’s like they hardly exist in fans memories.
When Tim Duncan said goodbye to the game of basketball two summers ago, the focus should have been on his brilliant career. Instead, it was an opportunity for the media to take shots at Kobe Bryant. Both players are now retired after a combined 10 NBA titles and 33 All-Star games. Many claimed “Duncan was the best player of his generation.” They said it so nonchalant, as if it was common knowledge. I heard “at least Tim didn’t take 50 shots in his last game.” There was, “Duncan retired with so much more class than Kobe.” Everyone kept bringing up the amount of money Bryant was paid his last two seasons. These takes are meaningless to the argument. You not liking Kobe, doesn’t change that he’s exactly, on the Tim Duncan level.
MY TAKE ON BRYANT
Kobe had as much skill, balance, and competitive heat as anyone who has played the game. His desire to be a student, ability to make difficult shots, and fundamentals were as good as it gets. He had Hakeem Olajuwon trained footwork and his handles have gone under the radar. Above all else, “the black mamba” was a spectacular performer. He excelled in pressure. Scoring 50 in a game is a dream for most guys. Kobe once dropped 55 in a half. The Lakers star poured in 50 plus points ten times….in one season. I remember a week and a half stretch where he hit the game winning bucket each night. Kobe not only bailed out Team USA in the clutch for a gold medal, the best players in the world were begging him to do it. He was close to “Michael Jordan good.” Let that sink in.
MY TAKE ON DUNCAN
It was memorable to watch Tim Duncan be so poised and capable of being the best, on the biggest stage, as just a youngster. He later grew up battling Garnett, Webber, Rasheed Wallace, and Elton Brand every night. Duncan was the man among those men. His brains, his array of post moves, back to the basket game, cool use of the glass, and unselfishness stand out. Tim had terrific hands and was a precise passer. He is likely one of the five best defensive players of my lifetime. The guy was still protecting the rim well as an older player. “The big fundamental” was a winner his entire career. His teams won 50 or more games in 17 straight seasons. Tim was the face of consistent, humble dominance.
SO WHO WAS BETTER?
It’s close! It’s a real debate. Their careers are equal. Taking each guy at their very best, it’s Kobe. His greatness was more jaw-dropping. Choose Duncan for the work on the floor. Don’t be clouded by him being the guy who should lead boy scouts, while Bryant is the teeth grinding villain. This is how we would go back and forth. You’d say Timmy has one more MVP than Kobe. I’d tell you Bryant has been the Western Conference player of the month 16 times to Duncan’s 3. You’ll say Duncan has one more Finals MVP. I’ll bring up Bryant averaging 29/7/7 on a record-setting 15-1 playoff run where Kobe was not MVP. You’ll say Kobe had Shaq. I’ll say the Spurs were awesome and Shaq had Kobe. You’ll say Duncan was a better teammate. I’ll say Kobe had the aggressive confidence of a lion. You’ll say Duncan had a better regular season winning percentage. I’ll add Bryant played in one more NBA Finals than Tim. You’ll bring up the big mans tremendous defense. I’ll agree, but we all know Kobe was a super defensive player. You’ll say Duncan took less money to give back to his franchise. I’ll say Bryant was more compelling and helped globalize the game. If you think Tim Duncan was the best player of his generation, it’s a legit take…It’s just not a fact.
It was only 26 months ago. Kobe Bryant’s final game was a bit more than another one of his gems. I know this is a guy who has played in the NBA Finals for a living. He’s bailed out a team in an Olympic gold medal game. He once scored 55 points in a half. Because of some unique circumstances, I believe this was the finest moment of his illustrious career.
These are the factors I’m considering:
WHO WERE KOBE AND THE LAKERS IN 2016?
The Lakers were horrible. This was a 16-65 group stuck in mud. Kobe had his moments that year. Just moments. There were eight or nine games where he played very well. Facts are his body was shot from injury and basketball mileage on his legs. He had become what I’d feared most…a gunner who could no longer shoot well. Bryant’s efficiency was disgusting for an NBA starter. Two days before his last game, he shot 4-12 and scored 13 points at Oklahoma City. He sat after 19 minutes with his body covered in bandages and ice. This had become a typical scene.
THE UNIQUE STAGE THIS GAME PROVIDED
Not everyone knows whether or not it’s their last game. In this case, we all knew for the majority of the season when Kobe would lace them up one more time. If healthy, he would finish April 13th 2016, in Los Angeles playing Utah. As the date approached it was obvious this was going to be an epic happening. This was a rare, high-profile evening built around seeing a specific player in a swan song. The stage was bigger than the game. It was like the Oscars at a pro basketball game. It felt like the Super Bowl of Kobe.
THE LAKERS OPPONENT THAT NIGHT
The Utah Jazz had known for just a short while that they had been eliminated from the playoff race. With injuries and resting guys, this was certainly a short-handed Utah team. It’s still the Utah Jazz. They are one of Kobe’s fiercest rivals and are well coached by Quin Snyder. This crew from Salt Lake City handed Bryant his biggest ever loss just two weeks earlier. Utah rocked the Lakers by 48 points while Kobe scored one lonely bucket. Utah and L.A. fans agree, this matchup is always personal.
MY EXPECTATIONS FOR KOBE IN THE FINALE
The scenario I’d hoped for Bryant was to score 21 points on poor shooting. I thought the Jazz would win by 16 or 17. My biggest goal as a fan, was that he did not embarrass himself. We learned later, that Shaq (sitting court side) challenged him to score 50.
HOW KOBE PLAYED AND HOW THE GAME TURNED OUT
Number 24 came out swinging and missed his first five field goal attempts. The Jazz were controlling the game and it looked like a familiar sight for these Lakers. Bryant kept firing like never before and something awesome happened. Things went from everyone wondering how many points he would score in this loss, to the realization that he had pushed the Lakers to a stunning come from behind victory.
In the last three minutes of the game he scored 15 points hitting his final five shots, four free throws and added a dime. In total he scored 60 points (38 in the second half), had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal. He out scored the Jazz himself in the fourth quarter 23-21. With intense pressure to perform, he was prime Kobe because the occasion called for it.
WHY THE IMPACT OF THIS GAME IS EXTRA SPECIAL
I’m not being a prisoner of that last moment. I saw Kobe play more than 1,300 times. He’s done way bigger and badder things over his journey. There was something different about this one. Did you see Kobe at the podium after the game? He was giddy like a child at recess, but he was in actual shock. Even with all the player has done, knowing he had a group of guys spoon-feeding him shots, he could not believe how things had turned out. It was like the “sports Gods” doing a major favor, for a guy that did not need one.
I knew Kobe would be a legend the second I saw his eyeballs. He took over a Finals game as just a 21 year old in 2000. Shaq fouled out in overtime and Bryant said, “I got you”. I was not surprised. When he out scored the Mavericks 62-61 through three-quarters in 2005, I felt it brewing the day before. For the first time, this guy did something I did not think he was capable of. I was a “Kobe doubter” for one night and he burned me. I was in shock with you Mamba. People always talk about first impressions. Kobe just proved how you say goodbye matters as well.
On his last basketball breath, in a game that called for him to be high-caliber regardless of circumstance…,he pulled off maybe his smoothest trick. He then got on the microphone, to give a speech that ended with “What can I say-Mamba out!” Even at his worst, Kobe pulled off his best.