Kobe Bryant's 60-point farewell: a view from the Jazz's side

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Dan Woike
·4 min read
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA APRIL 13, 2016-Lakers Kobe Bryant against the Jazz during the final game of his career at the Staples Center in 2016. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant takes a moment to catch his breath during the final game of his NBA career — against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Utah Jazz received the news before playing their final game of season. Like the Lakers, there would be no postseason for the Jazz after the Houston Rockets clinched eighth place, and the final playoff spot, in the Western Conference with a win earlier that night.

So their focus could shift — they wanted to be the team that sent Kobe Bryant off the court with a loss on April 13, 2016.

“Spoiling his last game would've been really fun for us,” Utah forward Joe Ingles said.

Instead, the Jazz had to settle for a different place in history — as the team that got to watch Bryant at his most Bryant-est when he scored 60 points on 50 shots five years ago today.

“All the stars were in the building. All the media people. Pretty much the whole world was watching that game,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “And we knew what was going to happen.”

Favors was injured that night. He tweaked a knee the previous game and watched from the sideline with regret that he wasn’t sharing the court with Bryant one last time.

Instead, like Jack Nicholson, Jay-Z, Jimmy Goldstein and Shaquille O’Neal, Favors sat courtside. Unlike those guys, he didn’t pay for his ticket — he actually got paid for his.

“I was watching it as a fan. If I could've had my cellphone out there, I would've been taking pictures and video — all that stuff,” Favors said. “I watched that game from a fan's perspective, and the things he was doing in the fourth quarter — we all knew was coming. As a team, we knew. Sooner or later, that was going to happen.”

Before Bryant dragged the Lakers ahead for an unlikely victory, Jazz players marveled at the environment, the A-list celebrities and media throngs not typically present for a team that had just 16 wins in the previous 81 games.

When asked about the game, Ingles remembered running onto the court for pregame warmups only to see a wall of media crowding the court, trapping him and his teammates inside their own three-point line.

“We just had like 50 people on the court, all with their back turned to us,” Ingles said.

The Jazz had a feeling that Bryant was going to come out firing. It was a part of the pregame scouting report.

“We were in [the locker room] joking around about it: 'He's probably going to take 100 shots tonight,' " Favors remembered. “… I wasn't surprised he took 50 shots. I remember during the game whenever somebody else on the Laker team touched the ball, the whole arena started booing. They wanted Kobe to have the ball. They took a shot? They'd automatically start booing because they wanted Kobe to take the shot.

“Whether he made or missed, he could've shot from half court, and they still would've cheered.”

Five years later, the memories from that night are sharp, from Bryant catching fire to the circus atmosphere that came with it.

“I remember sitting on the bench. I turned around and saw Snoop Dogg walk in past us. I noticed him and was like, 'Oh s—, that's Snoop Dogg,' " Favors said. “And he heard me! And he said, 'What's up?' I said 'What's up?' Put my hand out. That was my first time ever seeing Snoop Dogg like that. ... That was a big moment for me.

“Just seeing all the entertainers, all these people you grew up watching on TV. Everyone was there.”

Ingles later got a photo of him guarding Bryant that night to go with a pair of special-edition Bryant sneakers with the game’s date on them.

“Some pretty cool memories that I'll keep forever,” he said.

After the game as the Jazz headed to the visiting locker room, it was unlike the usual scene when a team's season ends prematurely. What the Utah players saw and what they were a part of was wild.

“We're a part of history now. Everyone is going to watch this game for the rest of ... however long,” Favors said. "You couldn't walk away from that game in a bad mood. You just couldn't. ... We all got a chance to witness that live — with front-row seats.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.