There are, obviously, rules that explicitly govern sporting events. But there are also implicit rules, too, ones that say things like You always play to win and No player is bigger than the game. Last night, Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant took turns shooting holes in those implicit rules, and it made for one of the best nights of basketball viewing in recent memory.
Curry and the Warriors were, ostensibly, playing for 73 wins and one of the greatest team records in sports. But almost as soon as their game against the Grizzlies started, it became clear that the victory was preordained, and that the real drama of the night rested with Curry’s quest to hit his 400th three-pointer of the season. His statement of intent came in the first quarter, when he went 5-of-11 from behind the arc, and strung together a particularly absurd barrage that saw him hit three in a row from deep in under one minute:
This kind of thing isn’t supposed to work in professional sports, you know? Cam Newton is a great quarterback, but I don’t think he’d end up with an ultra-efficient 355 yards and six touchdowns if he spent a whole game throwing nothing but Hail Marys. But Curry is so good, so apart from what we are used to, that he actually rendered his team’s quest for a truly remarkable record—73 wins is a big fucking deal!—a point of interest secondary to his own pursuit of a meaningless round number. Curry needed eight threes to reach the 400 mark; he hit 10 in three quarters and shot 62 percent from the floor.
And then the fun really started! With Curry going nuclear on one channel, it seemed inevitable that Kobe Bryant’s farewell game would be overshadowed. But then 60 points on 50 shots happened, and Bryant gave us the most hilarious, absurd, and shockingly joyous performance of his career. The term “Viking funeral” comes to mind, but that doesn’t quite capture it. This was like watching the dead Viking, engulfed in flames, rise from his pyre, chug seven or eight beers, and start piloting his ship towards an island in the Bahamas.
What I’ll remember most about Bryant’s performance isn’t necessarily the record-setting display of shameless gunning, but how much fun it was to watch him pull the trigger over and over again. Bryant’s long been the god of volume shooting, and we’ve certainly seen him get up a ridiculous amount of shots before, but those past performances always came with an underlying bitterness. Watching Bryant take 47 shots in an overtime loss to the Celtics was like watching a guy chew up a dozen lightbulbs just to prove he could. But with last night’s game completely unmoored from the things that usually matter—will anyone even remember the final score?—Bryant got to express his true self, and I never once felt the urge to knit my brow at his shot selection or roll my eyes at his brand of hero ball. Taking 50 shots in one game is something that should be worn as a badge of dishonor, but I wanted nothing more than for Kobe to hit the mark last night, and I was genuinely happy for him when he did.
Curry and Bryant were unquestionably bigger than the games themselves last night, which is what made watching them so much fun. It’s rare to see one player reach that kind of status, but we got to see two guys do it on the same night. Nothing mattered—not wins, not losses, not playoff seeding—except for Steph and Kobe, which was as it should have been.