There is a widespread cliche about journalism being the first draft of history, and in my experience there is an element of truth to it for me, personally. I was a history major in college, but also lived and traveled abroad extensively growing up. The impact that had on me was showing that people and faraway places written about in books weren’t abstract concepts but real things that were lived, seen and experienced.
As a journalist, you occasionally get a courtside ticket to history – wars, presidential elections, and natural disasters are the most common in my experience – and witness it firsthand. Tonight I had one of those experiences.
Last fall, I bought a ticket to the final Lakers game of the season, under the correct assumption that Kobe Bryant would retire after the final year of his contract in the 2015-16 season. It was money well spent. Tonight, I saw the greatest individual performance in a basketball game I’ve ever seen – in his final professional game at the age of 37, Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points, including the game-winning basket and game-winning assist. (NOTE: I wasn’t there when Kobe dropped 81 points.)
The sense of exhilaration and euphoria in the building is difficult to describe in writing. For one last time, the crowd at Staples got to see flashes of the Kobe Bryant of old, the Kobe who won the hearts of Laker and basketball fans everywhere (and five NBA championships on the way). He couldn’t have planned a better ending himself. He also set the bar for farewell games for athletes in every sport from here on out.
Though my heart was with the Golden State Warriors, who were focused on winning their 73rd game of the season in Oakland tonight, I am glad that I was able to see this game that was the highlight of an otherwise lackluster Lakers season. I don’t say this very often, but this is a game I will be talking about for years, one I will tell my children and grandchildren about. It was that important.
So long, Kobe. I wish we could all ride off into the sunset the way you did.