OKLAHOMA CITY – 62 points.
Luka Doncic being one of Gianna Bryant’s favorite players.
Everybody has Kobe Bryant stories. The Mavericks were involved in more than their share of connections through history with the NBA legend, who died along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.
It’s tragic. It’s unfair. And it’s unbelievable. Really, there’s no way to describe what the NBA feels when a shocking, way-too-soon death takes a legend.
It’s reminiscent of the Monday in October, 1999, when a small jet carrying six people lost air pressure and eventually crashed in South Dakota.
Payne Stewart, an icon in the golf world if not quite on the same legendary stage as Bryant, was on that plane. And the golf world and all of sports stopped for a moment.
The driving range and putting green at Champions Golf Club, where Stewart was coming to take part in the Tour Championship, stopped. Players left. Mourning began.
With Bryant, it was the same. The sports world took stock, reminded about how nothing can be taken for granted. That every day is a gift and that you should never miss a chance to tell the people who are important to you that you love them.
“We can never forget how precious life is,” Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban said in a Tweet. “How those who are special to you . . . never let them forget how deeply you love them.”
The NBA marched forward. Games were played, correctly so.
When Stewart’s plane crash happened, the PGA Tour considered postponing one of its marquee events. But, Champions Golf Club pro and 1956 Masters champion Jack Burke said the tournament should go on.
To paraphrase, he said that, when a soldier goes down, he would want and demand that other soldiers keep fighting. That seems to be the kind of steely attitude Kobe would embrace. He’d want the greatest athletes in the world to keep doing what they do best.
And remember the good times. And even the not-so-good times.
Those who were there will never forget on Dec. 20, 2005, when Kobe simply undressed the Mavericks. He had 62 points in three quarters. The Mavericks had 61.
If they’d been a little more competitive and Bryant had played in the fourth quarter, which he did not, he probably would have challenged his 81-point night in Toronto that will live as his best scoring night ever.
The “62-61” piece of paper that Bryant was handed in that game isn’t exactly Wilt Chamberlain holding up the “100” paper. But it was pretty awesome, even if it was an indictment on just how poorly the Mavericks played on that particular night.
And then there was the game in 2013 in Dallas. Cuban had said in the days leading up to that game that the Lakers might be best served by using their amnesty clause on Bryant, which would make him a free agent but save the Lakers millions in salary as they were in a rebuilding mode.
In that game, Bryant poured in 38 points in a Lakers’ victory and later tweeted: “Amnesty THAT.”
Most recently, Luka Doncic arrived on the NBA scene and Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, loved the Mavericks’ new point guard’s game. He became one of her favorite players, as Bryant told Doncic when the two met at a game in LA.
Bryant was with the Lakers for 20 seasons. He finished as the No. 3 scorer of all time, although LeBron James passed him on Saturday, just hours before Bryant died.
Dirk Nowitzki, who had profound respect for Bryant and loved competing against him, outdid him in one respect. Nowitzki ended up spending all 21 years of his career with the same franchise, eclipsing Bryant by a year.
Like the old movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” tells us, every man impacts so many other lives. Bryant was lucky enough to impact millions, whether it be through his entertaining skills on a basketball court – or being a father/coach to his daughters as they embarked on their athletic careers.
Bryant was particularly kind to media members and he was the sort of ferocious competitor that opposing fans may not have liked, but had no choice but to respect. There was a reason why games sold out in every NBA city when Bryant’s Lakers were in town.
He’ll be missed, gone way to soon.