The last night of games in the 2015-2016 NBA Season also presents two teams on the opposite ends of a scale: The Golden State Warriors, maybe the best team to ever step on an NBA floor, chasing history and records. On the other end are the Los Angeles Lakers, saying goodbye to a huge piece of their history, and moving on to an unknown, but finally not weighed down kind of future.
The Warriors are very likely to end the night with win number 73 this season. This isn’t just them finishing on top of the West for the second straight season. It’s not just them looking like the favorites to win the NBA championship, the title they won last season in mostly dominating fashion. It’s this group, which hasn’t really changed from last season, becoming the holders of the NBA’s all-time regular season wins record, which seemed untouchable, achieved by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. Those Bulls had a player, Steve Kerr. He is now coaching the Warriors to uncharted territory.
A while back, when the Los Angeles Lakers played the Warriors, the media tried to feed readers the angle of Kobe Bryant passing the torch to Stephen Curry. It made no sense. There’s nothing connecting these two. Bryant hasn’t held the NBA’s best player torch for a very long time. And for all of his achievements and incredible numbers, he’s not a player who changed something in this league. He touched the highest levels of excellence and had consistency for a remarkable number of years.
Curry is something the league has never seen. The amount of three pointers he takes doesn’t hurt his efficiency. He seems to be better at it the more he shoots. He’s not just unguardable near the 3-point line. He hits from way beyond it, even with a hand in his face. He makes the Warriors this special and unstoppable. For all of the credit that goes to other players, including Draymond Green, everything unique, special and historic about this Golden State team that began in 2014 a journey that will in who knows how many championships has to do with Curry being a specimen unlike anything else in the history of the sport.
The Lakers, as we said, are on the other end of this scale. They’re about to complete the worst season in franchise history. And this is a franchise that has 16 NBA championships and until the last few years, has rarely been out of the playoffs for more than one season between long streaks of dominance. They won five NBA championships from 2000 to 2010, all of them with Bryant on the team. It’s a weird time to be alive, seeing the Warriors on top of the Pacific division, while the Lakers reside close to 60 wins behind them.
This night isn’t about the team. It’s about one man. This whole season, and maybe the last few years, have been about him. Kobe Bryant retiring, playing his final game of basketball. An interesting figure for the mix feelings he induces in others. The arguments about greatness and what a good basketball player is he generates. Bryant was divisive. Always. Even during his best years, and especially during his decline. There’s no deserve. Bryant doesn’t deserve a better or worse kind of sending off. He got the respect he deserved from the league during his retirement tour. He’s saying goodbye on his terms, under the circumstances he helped engineer, for better and worse.