Overtime: On Kobe and Steph

In the final game of his NBA career, Kobe Bryant went out on top, scoring 60 points. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on April 20, 2016.

The final day of the 2016 NBA season will go down in history as one of the more stunning conclusions to a regular season in recent memory. Kobe Bryant’s final game and Stephen Curry’s Warriors winning their 73rd game, breaking the previous record held by Michael Jordan’s ’95-’96 Bulls, made for incredible television.

No one really thought Kobe could steal the limelight from the Warriors breaking what was thought to be an unbreakable record, not to mention Curry going for his 400th three of the season–no other player has even had 300. After Kobe started the game 0-5 from the field, it seemed like the chorus of people proclaiming that they didn’t want their memory of Kobe tarnished by watching him struggle in his final game were right. Curry even hit six deep balls in the first quarter of his game against the Grizzlies, meaning he was just two away from that preposterous 400.

But Kobe kept putting up shots, as Kobe does. Going into the game, the record board for “most field goal attempts in a game” was covered in “Kobe Bryant”. Nothing describes his career more than “shooters gotta shoot,” and that’s all he did Wednesday night.

All I wanted Kobe to do was to put up 50 field goal attempts, which would break the record for most in a game (field goals attempts were only tracked starting 33 years ago). Who holds that record, you might ask? Michael. Freaking. Jordan.

So naturally, two of the most polarizing players in the NBA today were chasing records set by His Airness himself, albeit those of wildly different calibers.

As Kobe is wont to do, he managed to steal the limelight by scoring 60 points in his final game on 50 shots, including a barrage of threes in the closing minutes, as well as the eventual game winning shot. It was a vintage Kobe game, where he took a high volume of shots but made them count. The Warriors game was put on the back burner before it even ended.

It’s fitting that Kobe had one more moment in the sun in his final game in the NBA. Before these last two seasons, a late-game Kobe shot was one of the more automatic plays in sports. It may be cliche to mention it, but there’s a reason why you yell “Kobe!” when shooting paper into a garbage can and not “Ray!”, “Reggie!” or “Steph!”

Everyone loves to hate Kobe, which made Wednesday night all the more unbelievable, especially considering how much everyone seems to love Curry. In fact, I would hazard a guess and say more people were rooting for the Lakers that night than in recent memory.

With that in mind, could Curry become the next Kobe? Is being the “next Kobe” even a thing?

Despite being so pervasive of a figure, he was overshadowed professionally for practically his entire career, whether on his own team (the Shaq years especially) or in the league as a whole, winning just one MVP. But at the same time, Kobe was everywhere and everything NBA. Despite the lack of expected recognition, he was and is still the most well-known player. Kobe existed as his own entity, outside of the general definition of superstar. Everyone knows who he is and what he’s done, as well as his status as one of the greatest to ever play the game, but somehow it never felt entirely tangible.

There’s a high probability of Curry going down as an all-time great following yet another bonkers year. As I mentioned above, he eclipsed 400 threes this season, the first to ever get over 300. He’s a shoe-in to win his second straight MVP award, which would be one more than Kobe. And the question for the NBA playoffs is not if the Warriors will win, but if they will lose any games on the way to their second straight championship.

Curry is certainly on his way to the visibility and name recognition of peak Kobe, as evidenced by every little kid in a Curry jersey and chucking threes from five feet from behind the line. (All of this is under the assumption that somehow LeBron is no longer the most popular athlete in sports, which is in it of itself a whole other argument.)

Kobe retires third all-time in career scoring with five championships to his name (and two Finals MVPs), an MVP award, 18 All-Star appearances and millions of people around the world shouting his name in offices and schools around the world. On the final night of his career, he reminded us all why, and showed up the young guys one final time. If he keeps up what he’s been doing, Curry might reach the level of Kobe one day, but for at least that one game, the Mamba retired as he played: on top.

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