The long goodbye: Kobe Bryant’s farewell road tour concludes in Oklahoma City before career finale
The 785th road game of Kobe Bryant’s 20-year Hall of Fame career on Monday was his final road game
The 785th road game, play-offs included, of Kobe Bryant’s 20-year Hall of Fame career on Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder was his final road game.
In his first road game on November 5, 1996 against the New York Knicks, Bryant scored one point, a free throw with 11:20 left in the second quarter. Los Angeles Lakers coach Bryon Scott was also a reserve on that Lakers team.
In the extinguishing embers of a career that burned bright, he had one more show for the road. Thunder fans, Bryant fans and those who appreciated what he has done craved one more scoring outburst and hoped every shot went in.
Bryant wanted to make it worth their dollar, and they got what they paid for: Bryant finished with 13 points – all in the first quarter – on 4-for-12 shooting, including an airball on his first attempt.
Six seasons ago had Bryant scored 13 in the first quarter, Thunder fans might have witnessed a 50-point game.
Those days are no more – Bryant, however, has five 30-point games this season, including three on the road. Thunder forward Kevin Durant (34 points) and Russell Westbrook (13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds and a first-half triple-double) did what Bryant used to do.
Durant went one-on-one with Bryant during a stretch in the third quarter of a game that wasn’t much of a game. The Thunder won 112-79, and following the game, Thunder players lined up for a hug and handshake.
As Bryant left the court, fans cheered for him one last time.
The road was good to Bryant. Or more precise, Bryant was good on the road because visiting fans weren’t always so welcoming. But the farewell tour revealed an appreciative visiting crowd, and there was no greater sign of that than the cheers for Bryant in Boston.
“He found out he had a lot of love out there,” Scott said of Bryant’s farewell tour. “Everybody showed their love because he came to play every single night. His competitive nature and the way he went about his business gained him a lot of respect around the world.”
With 8:37 left in the fourth quarter, Thunder fans chanted, “We want Kobe. We want Kobe.”
With 8:01 remaining in the blowout, the chant was “Kobe, Kobe.”
The persistent calls for one more appearance never happened though Bryant was tempted to check in one more time.
“I couldn’t do it,” Bryant said. “I played the first quarter. I tried to give it all I had. I tried to loosen up in the locker room coming out for the second half, but I couldn’t move well at all.”
Bryant’s last attempt against the Thunder was a missed a three-pointer with 5:29 left in the third quarter, 10 seconds after Durant made a three-pointer.
In between that first road game and last one, Bryant delivered in the visitor’s arena. He scored 61 points in Madison Square Garden, 60 in Memphis, 58 in Charlotte, 51 against Golden State, Phoenix, Denver and Sacramento.
On the road, Bryant scored 19,575 points (24.9 per game), made 6,891 shots, took 15,741 shots, collected 4,134 rebounds, delivered 3,512 assists and played 29,018 minutes, according to basketball-reference.com.
Seven of his 21 career triple-doubles came on the road, including one last season at Denver.
Bryant won his second championship in Philadelphia, his third in East Rutherford, N.J., and his fifth and final championship in Orlando.
There’s one more Kobe Bryant Show remaining, Wednesday at Staples Centre against the Utah Jazz. Scott said he plans to play Bryant more than Bryant has played in a game this season.
Expect Bryant to get about 40 minutes and possibly the same number of shots.
“There’s no place I’d rather end my career,” Bryant said.
Said Scott: “It’s just going to be bananas.”
After millions of air miles, the late-night/early-morning hotel arrivals or drives home, meals in boxes, the road wins and losses and the joy and frustration, the end is here.
As Bryant walked toward the bus, which was scheduled to take the team to the airport for the final charter flight of his career, Bryant was asked what he will miss about the road.
“Oklahoma,” he said, a sign that even if he does like Oklahoma, he has had enough.
For Kobe Bryant, it was the road more and less travelled.