December 2, 2015 – Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Vintage: (adj.): Something of high quality, especially something from the past or characteristic of the best period of a person’s work.
Fans of all types poured into the Verizon Center on the night of December 2nd, 2015. Fans dressed in DC Red, and Laker Purple and Gold. Fans young and old. Fans who have spent their lives adoring Kobe Bryant, and fans who have spent their lives abhorring Kobe Bryant.
On this night, they were all united, with one singular hope: They hoped to see something vintage. They hoped that the great Kobe Bryant would provide them one more memorable game, in a career with only a few memorable moments left.
Their hopes were exceeded, in a way only sports can provide. Vintage Kobe. Vintage John Wall. Vintage DC crowd.
The night began with an eerie vibe of anticipation, excitement, and unknown. Everyone just wanted to see Kobe Bryant. But how would he play? How would the Wizards respond? How would the game play out? Nobody knew, but you could feel the electricity the moment Kobe Bryant took the floor:
During the first half, the Wizards players looked star-struck, like they were there to watch Kobe themselves, rather than compete against Kobe. With the crowd cheering every Kobe touch, and seemingly every Lakers basket, the Lakers jumped out to a double digit lead. Only a Polish National Team caliber first half performance from Marcin Gortat kept the Wizards close, while seemingly every Laker took a turn sharing Kobe’s shine. 5 points from Lou Williams and DeAngelo Russell. 7 from World Peace. 8 from Jordan Clarkson. 8 points and 12 rebounds from Julius Randle. And of course, 18 from Kobe, including this patented throwback fade-away:
And the Wizards helped the Laker cause, serving up 12 first half turnovers to neutralize their 51% shooting. Only 14 points and 7 rebounds from Marc, and a late surge at the end, allowed the Wizards to close the gap to six by halftime, 57-51.
Then things got real. The Wizards opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run, with improved energy, execution, focus, and accuracy. After shooting 1-7 from three in the first half, the Wizards hit 5-9 in the third quarter, setting the stage for an epic fourth quarter duel, between the league’s fading past and DC’s rising future.
But Kobe vs. Wall wasn’t the only duel taking place inside the Phone Booth. In the stands, Laker fans and Wizards fans exchanged jeers and cheers, with the crescendo rising with every passing minute. A basket from Kobe. A basket or assist from Wall. Back and forth, mano-a-mano. Wall showing Kobe the future is now, and Kobe cherishing one more game ending challenge to his greatness.
After countless lead changes, and under two minutes left, the Wizards led 99-98. Then came the final strikes. A clutch Kobe 3 gave the Lakers the lead. A classic Wall assist to Gortat tied the game. And then, a vintage Kobe step-back jumper to give the Lakers the lead for good, at 103-101. On their final meaningful possession, Wall drove and threw an ill-advised cross court pass that was intercepted, the first blink in a stare-down between one aspiring great, and one who will be great forever.
As the final horn sounded, KO-BE chants shook the arena. And as he raised his arms in farewell and gratitude to DC for the last time, one could only smile. Love him or hate him, fans of LA or DC, the people had come to see greatness.
And greatness delivered.
#WizLakers in a tweet..
A Wall steal followed by a Lou Williams steal followed by a failed Kobe alley attempt and then another steal and then a Kobe 3. PANDEMONIUM
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) December 3, 2015
I cannot stress how incredible the above sequence was in person, and how it completely defines the DC basketball crowd that routinely packs the Verizon Center for big games. With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, a group of Laker fans arbitrarily began raucously chanting “LET’S GO LAKERS!” The Wizards fans then rose in retaliation, booing those same Laker fans, and starting chants of their own. By only divine intervention, at this exact time, the Lakers and Wizards produced the following sequence of events, exchanging turnovers, exciting plays, and culminating in an open Kobe three that he buried, and sent the Laker contingent into pandemonium. Watch this clip. Listen carefully to the crowd. Maybe you had to be there. Words cannot do it justice. Only in sports.
The Game’s Top Performer(s):
John Wall vs. Kobe Bryant
For the second night in a row, John Wall delivered a vintage #WallStar performance, showing signs that his early season slump may be over. Wall finished with 34 points on 11/-19 shooting, 3-6 from three, to go with 11 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. He also again flashed a post game, abusing smaller Laker guards and creating high percentage shots. If Wall continues to play like this, the Wizards will win far more games than they will lose.
But on a night when Wall was great, Kobe brought his best game of the season. A 31 point performance filled with familiar Kobe moves. Step backs, fade-aways, leaning threes, and crafty finishes. Who knows how many more nights like this Kobe has left, but he decided to give one of the best games he has left to DC. Thanks. Thanks a lot.