For so long it was the kind of night where no one cared about the result. Not even, it seemed, Kobe Bryant.
It was a night that was all about the occasion, all about the chance to say goodbye, all about the chance to celebrate a superstar’s swansong and all about getting Bryant as many points as possible.
Until, somehow, suddenly it wasn’t.
Deep, deep into Wednesday, Bryant found the warrior within once more and what had shaped up in every way like a stat-padding goodbye on the back of yet another Lakers defeat turned on its head.
Bryant had taken a ton of shots against the Utah Jazz, missing most of them — 28 of his 50 from the field falling awry. But when it mattered, as much as a season of 65 defeats can matter, he found that magical touch once more.
FOR THE WIN
Kobe Bryant went out the only way Kobe Bryant should have ever gone out
He ended with 60 points, a sweet, round number to cap off a career filled with two decades of ferocious, uncompromising, ball-busting effort, five NBA championship rings and a place among the all-time greats.
On the back of his final act, Los Angeles somehow rallied from a 10-point deficit with just over three minutes to play and turned it into a 101-96 victory at Staples Center. Bryant scored 13 of his haul in those closing stages, then exited with 4.1 seconds remaining and the contest by then wrapped up.
He saluted the crowd and exited stage right, hugging head coach Byron Scott. Scott had just one comment to whisper: "Un-(expletive)-believable."
It was a moment suspended in time. No one it seemed wanted it to end. It took an eternity for the referees to restart the game for those final ticks of the clock.
Then Bryant took the mic.
FOR THE WIN
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"I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by," he began. "This is absolutely crazy."
Looking back, it was crazy. All of it. Crazy that a 17-year-old guard could have the temerity to think he could be an NBA success and the talent to pull it off.
Crazy to hit all those game-winners, crazy to lift all those titles, crazy to keep the intensity at such an extraordinarily high level until near the end.
And crazy to find it again on the final throw of the dice, when there was no tomorrow except retirement.
Los Angeles is a place where stardom takes on a whole new meaning and where the pursuit if it never needs an apology.
If by shooting every time he got a sniff of the ball Bryant had cost the Lakers victory, no one would have cared. The crowd was here to see him above all else, even above victory. In the end, it was a choice they didn’t have to make.
FOR THE WIN
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It was the Kobe Show — the curtain-closing act in what has become a one-man goodbye tour for virtually the entire campaign. And against the odds, it got the perfect send-off.
The recent Kobe had been a calmer Kobe, a different animal to the player who for so long was driven by an insatiable, maniacal desire for success, a willingness to sacrifice sleep, sanity and anything else he had to in order to compete at his peak.
We thought the fire would never return. We were wrong.
With Father Time tugging at his ear, beckoning him to the exit door of a remarkable career, there was still time to turn back the clock. And how.
"I grew up a diehard Laker fan," Bryant said. "To be traded to this organization and spend 20 years, you can’t write something better than this."
Maybe not, but perhaps you can script something just as good. Like 60 points and a come-from-behind win to put a bow on it all. That’ll do it.
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @mrogersUSAT.