I sat on an airplane from Houston to Tampa, when I tried to collect my thoughts after I watched FSU beat Auburn in thrilling fashion, for the National Championship. (Here’s a shameless plug, but you can read about it here.) Now I sit in the same situation, although this time traveling from Los Angeles to Austin. I’m still sort of in a state of shock, but I’ll try to be concise and not bore you to death, since you did me the honor of reading this rambling mess in the first place.
Oh, where to begin? I guess we can go back 4 and a half months to November 29th, 2015. This comes as a shock to very few of you, but I happened to be sitting on my couch, on Twitter, when Kobe announced his retirement. I quickly read his letter (“Dear Basketball”) and thought to myself, “I’ve got to see him play one more time.” The Lakers had already taken their annual trips to Miami and Orlando (the games that would be the most convienent for me to attend.) The next best thing would have been to see him play in Atlanta, but the game was that weekend, and I had a prior engagement that I couldn’t miss. I guess at that point, I just kind of thought, “Go Big or Go Home.” So, I did. I immediately purchased 2 tickets for the last Lakers game of the season. Game 82, in Staples, Kobe’s finale.
Fortunately, I was able to get my tickets before they spiked astronomically. I still paid decent money for them, but I’ll tell you they were going for 4 times as much on the day of the game. I was pretty fortunate to get them when I did.
Stubhub got some flak recently for not fulfilling a buyer’s request for a couple of tickets to last night’s game. The seller didn’t upload the tickets and the buyer was left ticketless. I had a similar situation. My seller didn’t upload my tickets either, however, Stubhub gave me comparable tickets as part of their Buyer Protection Guarantee. I’m really not sure why my situation and the other one that I shared the link to were handled so differently. But, I am thankful for it.
So, fast forward to 4/13/16. It’s #MambaDay. My wife, Cara, and I get on a plane in Tampa and head to Kansas City. We have some BBQ and then leave for Los Angeles. Once we get to the City of Angels, we do what all tourists do there, head to In-N-Out Burger. Let me just tell you something, as a sidebar. In-N-Out is possibly the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It’s undoubtably the best fast food burger that I’ve ever had. If you go to a city with it, get it. If you don’t like it, message me. I’ll pay for it. Unreal.
After scarfing down our burgers, we headed down to Staples Center. It was about 4:30 pm. The Lakers held Fan Fest and the area around the arena was flooded with people, many of whom weren’t even attending the game. There were games for kids, bouncy houses, opportunities to take pictures with the Laker Girls or the 5 Larry O’Brien trophies that the team had won with Kobe on the roster, and just about anything else you could think of that would be fun for a Lakers fan. We opted to stand in line to take a picture with the 5 Finals Trophies. It was a neat experience and something that I likely won’t have the chance to do anytime soon.
Game time was approaching and it was time to go inside. We stood in a line for what may have been near 45 minutes just to get in. Another fan passed by and told us there was no line on the other side. We sprinted over and got in much faster than we would have in the first line. (In all reality, I don’t think we would have seen the pregame ceremonies if we didn’t go to the other entrance.)
There was a buzz in the arena. It was my 4th time seeing an NBA game at Staples Center. I was fortunate enough to even see Boston play LA there a few years ago. But, this was so different. I won’t bore you with details of the pregame ceremonies. You can watch the videos online. But, they were spectacular, and yes, I did tear up several times.
The game was great. Again, you can go watch the highlights better than I can describe what happened. A play-by-play of the game, isn’t the reason I’m writing this. Kobe started slow, but then picked it up quickly. Every single time he touched the ball, fans cheered. Even when he made free throws, fans stood up and applauded him.
We’ll move along to the 4th quarter; late in the 4th quarter , to be exact. The crowd went nuts when he hit 40 points. The Lakers looked to be out of the game, but that didn’t seem to phase fans much. Then he hit 50. What a night. LA was still down big with time dwindling, but who could be upset? The Mamba was going for 50 points in his last game ever.
Then something happened. Something that was incredible happened. Kobe reverted back to Vintage Mamba. He went into take over mode. He nailed shot after shot until the Lakers were back in the game. Staples was electric. The crowd was as insane as I’ve ever seen. Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, Kobe hit a 3 to bring the Lakers to within 1 and then hit the game winner with just over 30 seconds left. A couple of free throws would give him 60 points for the night. Mamba exited stage right to a roar and a standing ovation.
After the game, he spoke to the crowd. He was drained. He had given it all. But, he found a few words that brought cheers and roars from the LA faithful. After he spoke, confetti, streamers, and balloons fell from the ceiling. The Lakers wrapped up the worst season in the franchise’s history with an epic party, in true LA fashion. It was incredible.
We left the arena, went back to the hotel, and crashed. Then, we got up early this morning, hopped on a plane at LAX, and now I’m writing this to you, now. So, we’re caught up. That’s the end of the story, right? Nope. I’ll ask for your attention for just a couple more moments.
A question was posed to me on Twitter, asking how this compared to the last sporting event that I attended in LA. (Well, Pasadena, but let’s not do the whole “Well, actually…” thing.) My good friend, Toby, asked this:
Phenomenal question. Two similar games. Two similar finishes. Both games involved my favorite two athletes leading incredible comebacks in the final game of the season. Both games went down to the wire. Both games featured incredible atmospheres.
As far as the actual play, I’ll take Kobe’s shot all day. Winston to Kelvin was a sure thing. FSU had 1st and Goal from the 2 yard line. There were 17 seconds left and the Seminoles had a timeout. We weren’t not scoring in that situation. Kobe’s was shooting under 50% for the game. He had a very realistic chance to miss it. Except for the fact that he’s Kobe Bryant, and making clutch shots is what he does. Still, though, give me Kobe’s shot.
I do want to spend just a moment comparing the actual games, though. The biggest difference, obviously, was that one game was for a Championship and one game was meaningless. Or was it? Was last night’s game truly meaningless? Ask the city of Los Angeles if it was. Ask the NBA if it was. Ask the Lakers Franchise if it was. Ask the Mamba himself if it was. The answer is simply: no. It wasn’t a meaningless game. Did the game have playoff significance or impact? Nope, not at all. But, don’t confuse that with being meaningless. This game meant more to the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, and fans than any game that’s taken place since LA defeated Boston in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. We watch sports for the entertainment value. If the game was meaningless, Kobe wouldn’t still be trending the way he is. If the game was meaningless, the price to get in the arena on the day of the game wouldn’t have topped $1,000 like it did. If the game was meaningless, you wouldn’t be reading this post right now.
Surely, the result of the National Championship by FSU mattered more. Championships are why you play. But, don’t think for even just a moment that this game not having playoff implications has any impact on it’s historical significance.
When looking at FSU’s National Championship game and Kobe’s final game, it’s really tough to pick one or the other. I appreciate both games so much. I think that when looking at the games, with context, FSU’s win getting a trophy, I’d have to put that game (and finish) slightly ahead of Kobe’s last game. But, all things being equal, and just looking at the game (not the implications), give me Kobe’s final virtuoso performance all day. Maybe I’m just caught up in the moment. Maybe, I’ll change my mind as time goes on. But, I’ve watched Kobe for 20 years. I’ve waited to see a game like this for about 3 years. He finally did it. He finished in classic Black Mamba fashion. He was as clutch as he’s ever been. But, lastly, he let me see the greatest game that I’ve ever seen in my life. For that, I’m forever thankful.
Well, there you have it. My thoughts (rambling and boring at times I’m sure) on my trip, the game, and where I rank it on my personal list of games that I’ve attended. I really appreciate the calls, texts, tweets, and posts of support. I know some of you are diehard Lakers/Kobe haters, but still were happy for me that I got to attend such a phenomenal event. That’s the mark of true friendship, and I’m thankful for each of you. I’m not sure what crazy thing I’ll see next (hopefully it’s a Super Bowl with Mr. Winston at the helm), but I’m sure I’ll write some crazy long blog post and ask you all to read that also. But, as for now, I’ll just be happy with this.
Forever a Kobe Stan,