It was bad. It was a weird night, just seeing your favorite player’s last game and also he’s going off and getting 60 you don’t want to be on the other end of that but it was just a weird night that night.” – Utah Jazz wing Rodney Hood
HOUSTON — The stage was set.
April 13, 2016.
The Utah Jazz vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
The occasion: Kobe Bryant’s last NBA game.
After a phenomenal 20-year run, the longtime Laker would end his legendary career against the Jazzmen at Staples Center.
“I was there. I was on the court. I was on the bench,” recalled Jazz forward Derrick Favors, who didn’t play with a sore right knee. “It was definitely crazy.
“Everybody was watching that game, it was a lot of people there, a lot of stars, a lot of celebrities,” he described. “Everybody was there. It was a great atmosphere and it was just a great place to be that night. He had 60. It was a good way to send him off.”
Whether you’re a Lakers fan or not, it’s hard to forget that night when the Black Mamba capped his legendary career with an epic 60-point performance against Utah in his last hoorah.
On Monday night, the Jazz were in Houston, facing the top-ranked Rockets when the Lakers lifted Bryant’s No. 24 and No. 8 jerseys to the rafters, but the guys on the team at that time will never forget that moment of history.
“Being able to play against him in his last game was an amazing experience,” said Jazz guard Raul Neto, who posted eight points and four assists off the bench. “It was a crazy night, just the way the game went, how many points he had and it was a great experience being a part of it.”
Neto, Favors, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Alec Burks were all on the Jazz roster during that game as Bryant helped the Lakers win 101-96 on an otherwise gloomy 17-65 season in La La Land.
Ingles contributed 12 points in 21 minutes and Hood added four points while matching up against his all-time favorite player.
“It was bad,” Hood said, smiling. “It was a weird night, just seeing your favorite player’s last game and also he’s going off and getting 60 you don’t want to be on the other end of that but it was just a weird night that night.”
Bryant’s big night eliminated the Jazz from the playoffs as they finished 40-42 on the season as Houston got in at 41-41. Bryant’s former teammate, Trevor Ariza, was a member of the Rockets then and still is. Ariza said he knew the Jazz were in for a show.
“Thank you, because we needed that to get into the playoffs,” Ariza said, laughing. “He actually told me that they was going to take care of Utah for us so I appreciate him for that.”
Bryant’s Hollywood ending included a 23-point fourth quarter. He also hit the go-ahead shots down the stretch to ice the game in front of a star-studded crowd of celebrities such as Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Jack Nicholson, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Lamar Odom, Adam Levine, The Weeknd, George Lopez, Oscar De La Hoya, Paula Abdul and many others.
“What else can I say?” Bryant asked during his farewell speech, before dropping the mic. “Mamba out.”
Both Hood and Neto continue to draw inspiration from Bryant’s success, although he crushed their playoff hopes a couple seasons ago.
His five NBA titles, MVP trophies and Mamba Mentality continues to inspire this generation of athletes.
“The last game was kind of indicative of that. He’s a legend,” Hood said. “He definitely deserves to get both numbers retired because No. 8 is when I fell in love with Kobe’s game and to see him evolved in No. 24 was great.”
“That’s not only an inspiration for me but for everybody,” Neto said. “It’s something that people watch and know him not only from that game but for all that he did during his career.”