After scoring 23 points, the Washington Wizard with the famed number 23 stitched on the back of his jersey began to walk off the court for one last time in Los Angeles.
Everyone in the sold-out Staples Center stood and cheered.
Although we were all clothed in purple and gold as Michael Jordan raised a humble hand to acknowledge his last time as a player on the Los Angeles Lakers’ home court, we clapped in unison as basketball fans rather than Lakers fans.
Last Friday night’s game between the Lakers and Wizards epitomized what a great sporting event should be. The mere presence of Michael Jordan enlivened fans in the Staples Center, but his presence on the court had an equally significant impact on the Lakers’ performance.
Los Angeles forward Kobe Bryant poured in an amazing 55 points, an NBA season-high. Kobe also shattered the Laker record for points in the first half with 42, surpassing Elgin Baylor’s 37 first-half points against the New York Knicks in 1960.
There was no doubt that Kobe’s dazzling “double nickel” was because last Friday marked his last shot to play against Jordan in the professional realm.
The usually cocky Kobe appeared humble playing opposite the five-time league MVP Jordan. At one point Kobe fouled Jordan, sending His Airness to the floor. Kobe jokingly threw a couple of mock punches at Jordan, who was sprawled on the ground. The 24-year-old’s excitement to play with an NBA superhero, who a younger Kobe probably aspired to become, made spectators feel like it was a game among respected friends, not teams fighting for playoff berths.
Friday was by no means game six of the NBA finals in 1998, when Jordan stole the ball from Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, then brushed aside Bryon Russell and landed a clean shot in the final moments to clinch an 87-86 win and a sixth NBA title.
However, it was an awesome display of admiration from the audience and the Lakers for a player who, no matter how many times he comes out of retirement, remains a basketball legend.
Michael Jordan’s last game in L.A. reminds us of the power and emotional significance we attach to sports when final scores matter less, and the heart, desire and inspiration of a player mean more.
– Jennifer B. Siverts is the Daily Nexus AP editor and special supplements editor and is anxiously anticipating the Lakers’fourth consecutive NBA championship.