Attending Kobe Bryant’s final road game of his illustrious career was this NBA fans treat. With the short history of the best basketball in the world in Oklahoma City, last night brought the most loved opponent to the Chesapeake Arena on Reno Street. Bryant fans form the City, around this part of the Southern Plains, and various parts of the country flocked to see one of the greats of the NBA for the 2nd to last time in an NBA contest (Note: Bryant played his last road game and last playoff game in OKC).
Kobe, always a fan favorite for Thunder fans, was given a nice send off from the Thunder franchise, as the two greatest players in OKC history, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, did their part by punishing the retiring superstar, as usual, with non-compromising physical play. That was the norm for those three throughout their history on the court, and nothing changed last night. Bryant, playing with his usual confidence, scored 13 points in the first 12 minutes, showing a glimpse of his former self, while Kevin Durant worked hard on defense and also made the esteemed visitor work to stop his serious offensive skills. The brutal first quarter for Bryant spent his old legs and body, Kobe’s presence in the final three quarters of a 112-79 blowout was not significant. Hearing the loud chant by Thunder fans in the fourth quarter of “KOBE”, “KOBE” the great Laker of the past twenty years acknowledged the crowd later in his after game press conference, saying that he wanted to reinter the contest late in the game but he just wasn’t able as he was spent, physically.
Immediately after the final horn, Bryant waltzed over to the Thunder bench only to be met by Kevin Durant just near the center court line, where they exchanged words and sincere congratulations. It was a historic meeting for one final time between two of the best basketball players of their time, a span of nine years beginning in 2007 in Seattle when a young nineteen year old 6’10 rookie, wet behind his ears, went head-to-head with the best player in the world, one named Kobe Bryant. On that early season night, Kobe scored 35 and Durant got 25. Now, nine years later, various regular season games and playoff games spent in the passing of time, the former “rookie” and the “grizzled vet” had that one final hug on the hardwood, one that will have to do for the history of each. After Durant, other Thunder players did their best to show how much Kobe meant to the league, giving him a hug and pat on the back.
Russell Westbrook followed with a heart felt hug (as Durant had done moments earlier) with “his” favorite opponent and what was said about Durant and Kobe can be said with Russell and Kobe too. As known, Bryant has followed Westbrook and his career from a sixteen year old high school player in Los Angeles through college at UCLA and his eight seasons with the one player in the league that can and should “replace” the totally intense play of the retiring one. Yes, Westbrook takes Kobe’s place in going all out, and in another comment by Bryant last night, he told the world that Westbrook was probably the greatest “athlete” that he ever rubbed jersey’s with. Westbrook and Bryant were cut from the same cloth, and anyone that ever says that NBA players don’t go all out from the first tick of the clock until the entire forty-eight minutes have been spent don’t know Kobe and Russell. They just do not.
Hopefully the younger players on the Thunder realize what they experienced last night. Will Cameron Payne, the first year point guard in OKC, realize that he hugged one of the greatest players in the game, ever, last night. In twenty years, Payne will be able to say he played in Bryant’s last game and was there to give him his well wishes after it was over, on the court. Sports is all about history, records and statistics, and all the memories that entail the complete package. Last night was a significant night for those in attendance. It was a night to remember, not for what will never be see again in OKC, but what was experienced in a two and one half hours of an NBA basketball game.