I had felt this before, a stunned feeling, butterflies in my stomach. When I was a kid in Compton with next to nothing, it would happen when the Lakers games would be on KCAL 9. And five years ago, it happened again, this time at my home in Toronto.
My team at the time, the Raptors, was playing in Brooklyn and left a bunch of us behind with our playoff spot already sealed. So I was able to sit down on my couch, turn on my TV and watch every second of my idol, and my friend, Kobe Bryant play his last NBA game.
But there was just one problem — I couldn’t actually sit down.
As I watched Kobe, the couch wasn’t good enough. I was too hyped, too emotional. I had to get up. I mean, I had the chills.
I stood in front of my TV in Toronto, my hands on my head, my eyes getting wider by the second. I thought Kobe would do something special. But … I mean, come on … who does THIS?
I’d known Kobe a long time. I knew how hurt he was, how tired he had to be. Sixty points is crazy. Fifty shots are crazier. Thinking about it now, I still can’t help it.
I have to smile. It was just perfect.
It’s funny because I never really thought about how I was getting close with Kobe. It just sort of happened organically.
I went to his camp at Mater Dei. Klay Thompson was there too. At that camp, Klay and I were some of the guys who stood out. There’s a photo that goes around of me sitting there, listening to Kobe, one of the most knowledgeable players ever. He was going to keep an eye on us.
I kind of ended up in this circle of guys on call for these pickup games. One summer it was at Loyola Marymount. Another was at UCLA. I remember going to a Lakers game and sitting in the back talking to Kobe. He’d reach out and send shoes.
When I got to USC, we were the first team to have that Kobe sponsorship. It was always just connected.
When we played for the last time in Kobe’s last season, I was able to gift him some shoes. We had these all-gold Kobe 10s that we signed. I wrote a personal message. We got them customized and had them in this case.
It’s crazy because as a competitor, you take it for granted. You forget that you’re playing against one of your idols. You kind of take a lot of moments for granted and you look up and you’ll be on the court laughing and joking and hugging your idol for that last time.
Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his farewell game on April 13, 2016. Here’s a look at the game and his legacy.
We talked before that game and just to see him walking away, but also to see how happy he was too, knowing he was about to walk away from the game — you know that I found so much inspiration and enjoyment with that. As a player you’ll want to walk away from the game just being happy. And he was really happy.
It was always a part of getting to play against Kobe, because I’m still just that kid from Compton, hoping that tonight’s game would be on KCAL so I could watch it. When I think about my journey to the NBA, I think about Kobe because he was such an inspiration.
I didn’t text him or anything before that last game because I knew how hectic it all was, but I knew that he was going to do something spectacular. What? I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe he’d hit a game-winner.
But this was crazy — I can’t think of a better finish. I’m a big Peyton Manning fan; he’s my favorite quarterback. And yeah, he won a Super Bowl but that wasn’t him at his best. He was throwing ducks and things like that.
Remember Michael Jordan’s last game, when his team was losing and the fans were all rooting for him to go back in the game? Jordan mostly just stood up and waved. So many of the guys I’ve been fans of, when they retire, they just kind of go out quietly. This was different. This was like an “Avengers” movie.
Twenty years from now, if you want to show someone what kind of player Kobe Bryant was, it’s all in this game. That’s amazing, man.
I remember after that game was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about him shooting that many times. I took 38 shots once when I was 27. And I was exhausted. Really. Imagine doing it on your last game after 20 seasons, only you take 50. Crazy.
I know how hard that last season was. He couldn’t play in back-to-backs. The losing. He had to preserve his energy in a lot of games while trying to give fans one last show, especially on the road. He wanted to go out with an awesome moment.
It’s still crazy thinking about how it all paid off. Great athletes don’t get to go out this way with a game that’s just so perfect.
It never gets to end this way, but Kobe, man, he was just different.
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