Kobe Bryant simply wouldn’t slip into oblivion Wednesday night.
Instead, in the final of his 1,346 career regular season games, the 37-year-old dragged the Lakers to one more victory, as he has done for the previous 20 years.
When the final horn sounded, Bryant erupted for 60 points — the sixth time in his Hall-of-Fame career he reached the mark in a single game — as Los Angeles defeated the Jazz in an otherwise meaningless game.
Any significance for the contest was lost for Utah, as the Rockets managed to clinch the final playoff berth in the Western Conference with a dominant victory over Sacramento.
All that remained were 48 minutes for Bryant to hoist as many shot attempts as possible, further expanding the gulf between him and Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time career scoring list.
After being honored by several of the best current players in the during a pre-game tribute, including appearances from Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, Bryant torched the same team that handed him his first career playoff series defeat.
Facing elimination at the end of regulation of Game 5 during the 1997 Western Conference semifinals, Bryant walked the ball up-court during the final seconds of the fourth quarter and fired up an airball.
During the overtime session, he hoisted up three more, ending his rookie season with an 11 point effort on 4-of-11 shooting from the field.
The performance was the final time the 6-foot-6 guard appeared timid during the closing seconds of game.
Bryant connected on 28 game-winners during his career, wrestling victories away from opponents often with little help from teammates.
Utah became one of his more frequent victims, as he posted 25.8 points in 60 career appearances against the team.
He truly saved his best effort for last, pouring in 23 fourth quarter points as the Lakers overcame a 15 point deficit to close out the worst season in franchise history with a 101-96 victory.
Bryant unleashed his entire offensive repertoire, as he converted eight shots at the rim, six from beyond the arc and another eight off mid-range jumpers.
No matter how many defenders Utah tried to throw at Bryant, he found a way to create more than enough space to find the bottom of the net.
The 60-point performance was the best individual effort of the 2015-16 season, marked the first time Bryant registered 50 or more points since February 2009 and established a record as he became the oldest player to ever tally a 50-point game in league history.
He became the fifth player ever to log 20 seasons in the NBA and the first to play with a single team for his entire career.
Bryant was selected by Charlotte with the 13th overall pick just days after graduating from Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.
The Lakers immediately dealt for him, sending Vlade Divac to the Hornets for his draft rights.
The accomplishments piled up by Bryant have been staggering, as he led the Lakers to five championships, was chosen as an All-Star 18 times, All-Star Game MVP on four occasions, captured a pair of scoring crowns, was tabbed the 2007-08 league MVP, nine All-NBA Defensive First teams and 11 All-NBA First Team selections.
For a brief moment, the same nerves that rattled him during his first career elimination game, appeared at the start of Wednesday’s contest.
Bryant missed his first five attempts from the field, before delivering a signature pump fake, and burying a jumper from 10 feet out.
The shot started a flurry of points from Bryant to close out the first quarter, as he poured in 15.
He scored 17 straight points for the Lakers, helping transform an eight point deficit into a three point advantage, one that wouldn’t be surrendered.
Bryant knocked down each of his final five shots to end his legendary career.
Bryant refused to take off his jersey before addressing the media for the final time as an NBA player, in an effort to soak in his final moments.
His uniform is off and his playing career is over, but Bryant won’t be forgotten anytime soon.