Entering the fourth quarter of their last game of the season, the Lakers were down, again. But inside Los Angeles’s Staples Center on April 13, 2016, that didn’t really matter. Fans in the seats and the millions tuning into broadcasts of the game were watching for one reason: to witness Kobe Bryant’s final night in gold and purple.
Five months earlier, Bryant – then 37 and one of basketball’s most decorated players – announced that he would be retiring from the sport after the 2015-2016 season, concluding a storied and at times controversial 20-year career with the Lakers. Bryant shared the news in a short poem titled “Dear Basketball,” which went on to inspire an Oscar-winning animated short.
It’s difficult to watch now, knowing how his story ended Sunday.
– – –
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
Up until the final game, Bryant’s last season had been a difficult slog for the Lakers. The team had only won 16 games, its worst-ever record. The April 13 matchup against the Utah Jazz was shaping up to be another defeat in the Lakers’ collection of losses.
The season was tough for Bryant, too, as several before it had been. He had weathered a series of injuries during his lengthy career with the Lakers, but the brutal damage he endured in his last few years finally put an end to his game. He battled ankle sprains and eventually snapped his Achilles’ tendon. In the January before his final season, he had surgery for a torn rotator cuff. If it weren’t for his body, Bryant said he would have continued to play.