Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna tragically passed away yesterday in a helicopter crash. Bryant was one of the grandest competitors sports as a whole have ever seen. Here is a look back at the final time he graced the floor against the Indiana Pacers.
On February 8, 2016 Kobe Bryant made his final appearance against the Indiana Pacers. The game took place in Bankers Life Fieldhouse although it didn’t feel like it. Every part of the experience was based around the Mamba.
The Pacers faithful always make it to home games in droves. Every home game is a vast sea of Indiana fans with a few away supporters. The crowd solely backed the home town squad every night of the week and even handed out a boo or two towards opponents.
This night was different.
The Kobe Bryant jerseys outnumbered the totality of Pacers jersey in the arena. It was almost as if being transported to Staples Center. Late in the game Paul George even received boos while at the free throw line.
It was obvious Kobe was no longer the player he once was. The ruptured Achilles he suffered 2013 sapped the explosiveness that was part of what made him unguardable. There was no up-and-under dunks, no powerful drives to the rim, just a shell of what he once was.
He started that game 2-16 from the field. It felt like one of those nights that had become all too common in his final season. His mind was still strong, but his body was not. The Los Angeles Lakers gave him the platform for a sendoff, but he regularly was unable to perform.
The turnaround happened when Bryant returned from the bench with under five minutes left in the game. He was able to, just momentarily, gather the strength to give a stretch of prime Mamba.
In 1:45 of game time, Kobe tore into the Pacers four-point lead with 11 straight points and gave the Lakers the lead. The fieldhouse was the loudest it may ever have gotten. Everyone in attendance received their last dose of Kobe Bryant, uncut.
He delivered what every person in the crowd came to see: the mesmerizing abilities his incredible drive had created. There wasn’t much time left in his playing career so now it had to be delivered in spurts. And for everyone in the crowd, myself included, that was more than fine.
The Pacers ultimately won the game and for maybe the first time ever, nobody in Indianapolis really cared. This was Kobe’s night. The fans knew it. The players in Blue and Gold knew it. And on some level, Kobe knew it too.
This was a man that was part of the two-headed monster that denied Indiana their best ever shot at an NBA title. Sixteen seasons later he was revered in the Pacers home arena. Every cheer was for the Black Mamba. Similar to the 2001 Finals, he didn’t play his best ball, but just like before, it didn’t really matter.