The last day of 2015-2016 NBA regular season was a memorable one. Fans in Los Angeles and all over the world said goodbye to Kobe Bryant, who played his final game in the NBA, while fans in Oakland witnessed the Warriors make history.
Both games were on at the same time, and basketball fans were forced to make a decision. Did you choose to say goodbye to an icon who has been the face of basketball for the last 20 years? Or did you choose to watch a team that has been shattering records all season, becoming the winningest regular-season team of all time?
Either way, you would not have been disappointed.
If you chose to watch Bryant and the Lakers, you were treated to a spectacle. The game itself had little meaning since both the Lakers and Grizzles were out of playoff contention, and yet, the atmosphere in the arena was that of a championship game. Celebrities lined the courtside seats and there was not an empty seat in the house. To add to the sentimental value of the night, the game was preceded by a video montage of current and former basketball players saying goodbye and explaining what Bryant’s career meant to them.
If the record-smashing Warriors were more worth watching, the atmosphere was similar. It was less about the game and more about celebrating the accomplishment that Golden State was about to achieve. The Warriors were looking to break two records; One for the most wins in a season, 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls during the 1995-96 season, and the other, Stephen Curry looking to further his own record for three-pointers in season by surpassing the 400 mark.
From the opening tip, the game plan for the Golden State was pretty obvious—get Curry the ball. After he missed his first three-pointer of the game, the Davidson-bred Curry came back and made five in a row—by the end of the first quarter, the game was already a laugher. As a team, the Warriors had taken 17 three-point attempts in the first quarter alone, which is more than most teams take all game. With the game already secured by the end of the first quarter, fans were now waiting for Curry to hit 400.
The Lakers had a similar game plan: get Bryant the ball. The night was all about the 18-time NBA All-Star, and his teammates made sure of that. Many thought Bryant would only play half of the game, but he shocked everyone not only with how long he played, but how well he played. Bryant, whose career is lined with awards and championships, has been criticized at times for taking too many shots, but on this night, there was no limit.
Many analysts before the game joked that Bryant’s career high for shots taken in a game was 47, and that he should aim for 50. Perhaps Bryant heard them, because that is just what he did. After getting off to a slow start and missing his first five shots, Bryant settled in and began scoring like the vintage Kobe that we have running through highlight reels in our heads. By the end of the game, Bryant scored 60 points—the most ever in a player’s final game. Even more fitting, with his team down late, Bryant hit the key shots to pull his team ahead and edge out the win.
For Curry, his shining moment came in the third quarter when he hit his four-hundredth three-pointer of the season. He would hit two more after that and go on to score 46 points, which was 30 more than the next-highest scorer on his team. His new total now stands at 402, blowing away his previous mark of 286. But his individual accomplishment did not take away from his team setting the record for most wins in a season—a feat that even Steve Kerr, head coach of the Warriors and member of the ‘95-‘96 Bulls, thought would never be attained, and yet the Warriors made it look so seamless.
Seventy-three is the number that now stands. But, records are meant to be broken. While we watched one of the greatest individuals to ever play the game walk away, we witnessed what will one day be argued as the greatest team to ever play step into the spotlight.