We were stuck in unbelievable traffic for hours. My colleague Mike and I were making our way from San Diego, where we just had a meeting with a potential client, to Pasadena for a presentation at JPL the next day. With the traffic the 140-mile trip took close to four hours!
We knew Southern California well enough to not typically do this kind of thing, but the business requirements left us no choice. Turns out this was not an ordinary work trip and left Mike and I with a shared experience and memories we would recall years later.
It was April 13, 2016 the final night of the NBA regular season and several key games were being played, including the Warriors going for a historic record. During their epic run, it was easy to be a big time Warriors fan, and I certainly was. When we finally got to the Pasadena hotel, we Googled and Yelped our way to a nearby sports bar. We ended up at Rocco’s Tavern, which is well known in SoCal due to having four locations, wall-to-wall TVs, decent Italian-focused pub grub and great wings.
When we entered, there was already a huge crowd. Given my focus on the Warriors getting the record for best NBA regular season, I had forgotten this was Kobe Bryant’s last game.
As I wrote to my colleague in a New Year’s Day text message – “Hey Mike – Happy New Year! The SF Chronicle is doing a series of the top 10 memorable Bay Area sporting events for the past decade. They have the night the Warriors won their 73rd record-setting game as #7.”
“That was the night you and I drove from San Diego to Pasadena and managed to see the game at a local sports bar. They had all screens on Kobe Bryant’s last game. We managed to talk the bartender into giving us one screen above the bar.”
“Stephen Curry scored 46 points in less than 30 minutes and had 10 3s, taking him over 400 for the season. He went on to win the MVP in a unanimous vote. Trust all is well and you are enjoying retirement!”
Mike responded: “It’s funny, I was actually thinking of that night just recently too. I think it was a story in the [New York] Times Sports section also doing a recap on some of the highlights of the last decade and they listed Kobe’s final game—60-point night— and it got me remembering that night at the bar as we watched. I actually forgot about the GS record that night too. That was a fun sports evening.”
Both the Lakers and Warriors games were being played on the West Coast, so the games were in sync as they progressed. From our seats at the bar, we could hear the Lakers fans throughout the game as they cheered their team on. As Kobe began to pile up the points, the chants turned to Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!
The Lakers players were perfectly happy to give the ball to Kobe on virtually every play and he ended up taking 50 shots. It was a close game and Kobe was the decider, as he often was. He scored 15 of the Laker’s final 17 points including the go-ahead jumper with just over 30 seconds left in the 101-96 Lakers win over the Utah Jazz. This was a highly competitive game as Utah needed the win to make the playoffs, so they certainly did not ease up to let Kobe get his points!
2015-2016 was the Laker’s worst year. They finished 17-65 in last place in the Pacific Division. Their .207 winning percentage was second worst in the League. Kobe scored 17.6 points-per-game, considerably below his career norms, although he still led the Lakers in scoring. Nevertheless, the fans honored Kobe. There was a sellout crowd of 18,977 at the Staples Center that night too.
I should mention I lived and worked in LA from 1982-1993. I made many friends there and they turned out to be like family. The Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar led “Show Time” Lakers were dominent and fun during that time, going to the NBA Finals eight times and winning four championships.
The crowd heard Magic Johnson honor Kobe with a pre-game speech. And, of course, Kobe gave his famous “Mamba out” speech at the end of the game. No one left Rocco’s that night until Kobe finished speaking, and even then, the crowd lingered.
After the grim news of Kobe’s death, Mike and I texted again.
Me: “Ironic you and I were just texting about Kobe’s last night and the 60 points. Tough news today about him and his daughter.”
Mike: “Extremely, extremely sad. That night was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about his death. That was a unique night and one I’ll always remember. Just a terrible tragedy.”
Me: “Totally agree. Leaves two daughters and his wife. Awful.”
While I loved seeing Curry’s fabulous performance and the Warriors get the 73rd win, what stands out today are the Lakers fans. Despite the incredible diversity of the City of Angels, Kobe was universally loved in the Los Angeles area. I can still hear the fans chanting – Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!