Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and this could be the finale of his illustrious career.
Bryant played in front of many of his fans on Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, as the Lakers got by the Nets 104-98.
This was just the second time he played in Brooklyn, the first coming on February 5, 2013, when he put on a show. Kobe scored 21 point that night, with the biggest highlight coming on a driving dunk down the lane over Gerald Wallace.
On Friday night, it felt like an Appreciation Game they would have for a soccer star in Europe, as fans cheered every time he touched the ball in anticipation of what he would do. Bryant had 18 points (5-for-16 FG, 1-4 on threes) with three rebounds and three assists.
Lakers Head Coach Byron Scott said of Bryant’s play, “Sometimes he’s just a little flat. Sometimes his legs are probably not under him. Tried to mix it up tonight where he is not sitting out a bulk of minutes at a time. So I switched it up tonight as far as the way I was going to play him, and I thought that worked better. He said it worked better. We’ll continue to do that. He’ll get his rhythm. I’m not worried about that.”
Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins was asked before the game about this maybe being Bryant’s last season and what it’s like to coach against him, and he said, “I don’t have any thoughts about it being his last year. He’s been a great player for his whole career, and everybody that plays in this league, it ends at some point. When it ends, I don’t know. I don’t know if Kobe’s leaving after the year, during the year, next year, three years from now, I don’t know. He’s been a great player, though, and I don’t have many fond memories (coaching against him), at least I can’t think of any right off the top of my head.”
Lakers announcer Bill MacDonald said of the first time he called one of their games, “I’ve been doing the Lakers games for the last five years, but I filled in one time a few years ago, and the very first time that I ever got the chance to do a Laker game on television, I filled in for Joel Meyers, who was off doing a football game, and it happened to be a Sunday night in January when the Lakers were playing the Toronto Raptors, and it turned into Kobe’s 81-point game. So, I mean, I considered myself incredibly fortunate and grateful, and I figured if that was the only game I was ever going to do, what an unbelievable game. But you know what, it’s funny, people have talked to me about it for many, many years, but that was all about Kobe. That was Kobe’s night, but just to be part of it was something pretty special.”
MacDonald said of what it’s like seeing Kobe play every day, “It’s been different the last three years because he’s been hurt so much. I was doing the pre- and the post-game shows for a few years before I was doing the play-by-play and, plus I’m a huge Lakers fan. I grew up in southern California, I’m a lifelong Laker fan. My dad had season tickets when I was a kid, in fact during the 33-game winning streak year. We went all the time, I was a big Jerry West fan, my favorite player was a guy named Jim McMillian back in the early ’70s. But, anyway, it’s great, Kobe, he’s a true artist at what he does. He hasn’t been able to do what he’s done his whole career, and you know what, the end might be near, it might be. He knows it, we know it, hopefully he’s going to battle through an early-season injury to his leg, his calf, but you know, there’s a lot of mileage on that 20-year NBA body, but he’s been a joy to watch, and Lakers fans are really going to miss him when he’s gone.”
On if this has a similar feel to when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired, MacDonald said, “Kareem played at a pretty high level too, and he was surrounded by such a great cast also, remember, but you know what, here’s the difference – Kareem went out, he had kind of a farewell tour, everybody remembers the big rocking chair that he got, Kobe doesn’t want any part of that. In fact, when he finally hangs it up, it could be a spur-of-the-moment decision, who knows, but he doesn’t know when it’s going to end. He doesn’t want it to end, I know that, because today, I mean, you were there, you’ve been around, he loves playing the game of basketball and it’s special for him to come to New York, whether it’s Brooklyn, in this building, where he’s only played, this will only be his second time, or of course, The Garden, where he’s going to play on Sunday. It’s just so much fun to com to New York, you know, everybody knows that, and for a guy like Kobe, it’s really special.”
On if he thinks that’s one regret of Bryant’s that he never got to play the Knicks in The Finals, MacDonald said, “You know what, that would have been something special, right? Again, we’re going back to when I was growing up, I remember going back to the Willis Reed game, and I haaaaated that (he said jokingly). I hated him, I hated the Knicks because they were so good and they passed the ball around and they beat my Lakers, you know, and just anything that has to do with New York and Los Angeles. I’ve always thought any kind of New York-LA rivalry’s been pretty special.”