Kobe's 60-point farewell: From Magic Johnson to Gary Vitti

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Broderick Turner
·8 min read
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Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson embrace before Bryant's final game at Staples Center on April 13, 2016.
Magic Johnson hugs Kobe Bryant after he scored 60 points in his farewell game on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers legend Magic Johnson, trainer Gary Vitti and executive John Black recall Kobe Bryant's magical 60-point game in his farewell performance.

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Magic Johnson is one of the most beloved Lakers, his five NBA championships and radiant smile landing him on the pantheon with so many other sporting greats.

But on the night Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game as a Laker on April 13, 2016, at Staples Center, Magic said that the 6-foot-6 guard was “the greatest to wear the purple and gold”:

“It was the greatest exit I’ve ever seen of any athlete in any sport. To be able to drop 60. I’m talking about dominating. And he wasn’t trying to get 60, it was just in the Kobe way. He got the points from everywhere and here’s a man in his 20th year and got stronger as the game went along. That’s where you say, ‘Wow!’ That’s what made him special because he could do things other athletes and other basketball players could never do or will never do.

“We were going crazy in the crowd, especially in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. Remember nobody sat down. Everybody was just going berserk. They were just going crazy because he just kept going. We already was there to say thank you and goodbye, we love you, thank you for the 20 years. But to give us 60, too, to give us 60 on top of that. If he would have scored [zero] or two, we would have been happy. He said, ‘No, no, no. I’m going to give you a masterpiece.’ That’s what that was, a masterpiece. It was like the greatest painters — Picasso or whoever. That’s what Kobe said, ‘I’m going to leave you with this forever. You will never, ever forget this night, this moment and you will never forget Kobe Bryant at the same time.’

“It was the hardest ticket to get. Everybody wanted to be there to say thank you and thank you and thank you. And then he said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. I got something for you.’ (Laughing). That’s what I always loved about Kobe. He was not going to go out like just some guy going out. He said, ‘No, I came in special and I’m going to leave special. I came in great and I’m going to leave great.’

“We’re never going to see this again. Nobody at his age, at the years he played in the league will be able to do what Kobe did on that last night. And then nobody wanted to leave. I handed the mic to him and then when he said, ‘Mamba out,’ everybody was still in there yelling and screaming. And nobody was heading to the exit. That Staples Center stayed packed. Didn’t nobody go nowhere. That’s the only time we’ve ever seen that was in Game 7s and when we won the championships. People just stayed there and was just cheering, “Ko-be … Ko-be … Ko-be.’

“It’s something you will never forget and that’s why it’s so hard because he’s gone. His presence will be here forever. It will never leave.

“What a moment and what a time. You just think about that’s the type of impact that this man had. Remember, the Warriors was going for [an NBA record] 73 wins and nobody cared. I know they were sick because they got no attention. None.

“He went out on his own terms and the way he wanted to go out and not somebody telling him how to go out. “

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John Black, the former vice president of public relations with the Lakers for more than two decades, reminiscing on Kobe Bryant’s final game and scoring 60 points:

“The game ends right away and you know how I would go down and get players to do postgame interviews with the TV stations. Everybody was watching Kobe. He was standing near the Lakers bench and nobody went up to him for some reason. His teammates you thought would have mobbed him or something, but everybody I guess was in a state of sort of stunned. Everybody was kind of standing around looking at him. There were probably a couple of dozen TV cameras and photographers sort of surrounding him, but not real close, probably 15, 20 feet away from him shooting photographs. All the fans are on their feet looking at him.

“So, I go walking up to him and tell him what interviews he had to do and the first thing when I walked up to him, the first thing he said to me, ‘What the … just happened out there?’ It was such a funny thing, right? That’s the first thing he said. So, I guess I kind of chuckled a little bit and what I said back to him, I said, ‘I don’t know but it sure was fun to watch.’

“Then I had him do a couple of interviews and he went back to the locker room and his teammates mobbed him.

“Normally he would take a shower and get dressed before he talked to the media. But he understood the situation that people were on deadline and the importance of it. And I think the other thing is, I think he just wanted to keep that uniform on as long as possible. So he said to me, ‘I’m ready to go talk to the press,’ and I thought it was going to be 20 or 30 minutes and he surprised me that he wanted to do it right away and he wanted to do it while he was still in uniform. So, I took him still in uniform over to the press conference room and that was the last time he wore his uniform was during that press conference.”

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Former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, who also retired that same night of Kobe Bryant’s final game after 32 years with the team:

“Yeah, we talked about it. We talked about going out together. I don’t think either of us knew he was going to go for 60. Like a lot of things with him, it just sort of evolved. He missed his first [five] shots. I know he was throwing up some bricks, but that’s never stopped him (laughing).

Trainer Gary Vitti talks to an exhausted Kobe Bryant.
Trainer Gary Vitti talks to an exhausted Kobe Bryant after the Lakers defeated the Toronto Raptors in an overtime game on March 8, 2013. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

“You have to look at the whole season. The last game was probably a snapshot of what the whole season was like, meaning we knew we couldn’t win. In professional sports, what you sell, what the Lakers have always sold, was winning and we couldn’t sell winning. If you can’t sell winning, then you sell hope. But there was no hope. So, we couldn’t sell winning, we couldn’t sell hope, so we sold Kobe. And we basically let him do whatever he wanted to do, especially on the court. But the whole season was basically just watch Kobe. That’s basically what the last game was all about, was letting him do whatever he wanted to do and he went for 60. He went out swinging.

“I realized towards the end he really started to enjoy life beyond basketball. He had plans and he was executing his plans and all of that stuff sort of came to a head in his last game in the sense that he was ready to say goodbye to basketball and start his next chapter in life. He was ready. We were losing, but he was the happiest I had seen over our 20 years together.

“I always said that there were two people. There was Kobe Bryant and then there was the Mamba. When he got on the court, if it was practice or a game — and again that was competitive — you weren’t competing against Kobe Bryant. You were competing against the Mamba and the Mamba took no prisoners. He was ruthless. Kobe Bryant on the other hand, if he saw my daughter, or my granddaughter, or any child, or a Make-A-Wish kid, he just absolutely melted. I really think most people didn’t know that he had that side. He started to show it towards the end.

“But that last game, there was part Mamba and part Kobe playing that game, just out there having fun. I mean, he wasn’t ruthless in the last game. He was two different people and I think people saw a glimpse of Kobe and not just the Mamba his last game.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.