DALLAS — Kobe Bryant entered the visitor’s locker room at the American Airlines Center about one hour before tip-off with a relieved smile and determined look on his face after going through his pregame shooting routine.
His unofficial farewell tour, which was in Dallas this night, was back on track after missing the last two stops in Miami and Orlando due to a stubborn stiff back.
After getting the traditional dap and pleasantries from the best Laker of all time, I was able to tweet with confidence that Kobe Bryant would play in my home city one more time:
— K. Johnson (@KendrickJohnso) November 14, 2015
To the delight of everyone, Bryant turned back the clock for a quarter by hitting his first three shots of the game while backpedaling down the court with a smile on his face similar to the one he wore back in the 2009 season.
“It’s funny, because there’s a lot of Mavs fans that normally heckle the s— out of me,” Bryant said. “They let me have it. [Friday night], they didn’t. It was just high-fives and best-of-luck sort of thing.”
For Lakers head coach Byron Scott, Bryant’s early-game explosion was simply Kobe being Kobe.
“He’s Kobe Bryant,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “The first 5 or 6 minutes, I was sitting there thinking I can’t believe this guy was sick the other day, back was hurting a couple days ago.”
The future Hall of Famer scored 14 of his 19 points before halftime and had his most efficient games of the season. When the final buzzer sounded, Bryant finished 7-of-15 from the field while playing a season-high 32:25.
After the Lakers dropped a 90-82 decision to the Mavs for their fourth loss on their five-game road trip, Bryant took a little more time than usual to leave the court while sucking in the fanfare from the Mavs fans one last time, despite being treated at times over the years as Public Enemy No. 1.
“It is strange, but honestly, if I had to pick, I’d have it that way,” Bryant said while reflecting on the game. “At the start of the game, they’re very thankful. But during the game it’s, ‘We hate you’ and ‘boo,’ and then at the end of the game it’s, ‘Thank you.’”
Besides the fond farewell, Bryant took great pleasure matching up with fellow future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki one last time.
Although Dirk got the best of Kobe with a nice up-and-under move which had both players smiling and talking on their way down the court, Bryant could only continue to smile when asked about how it feels to compete against another future Hall of Famer.
“I love playing with Dirk,” Bryant said. “It’s rare that I play against somebody that came up around the same era that I did. It’s good to see him.”
Nowitzki, who finished with only nine points in the win, chimed in, “He looked great today, had a couple of days off and really got them off to a hot start. It’s always good to see. He’s a legend.”
Watching Kobe mingle with the Mavs players, hug Mavs owner Mark Cuban and suck in all the love from the Mavs faithful was a surreal feeling. To see him get all the love and respect from the city of Dallas and be able to walk off like the true legend and champion he is will be something I’ll never forget.
No matter if you’ve loved him or hated him over the years, one thing is for certain: Kobe Bryant got your respect. Mavs fans got it right by giving Kobe a legend’s farewell, and expect the same in NBA arenas across the country this season, because the end is near for the greatest Laker of all time.
And he’s at peace with that.