Where Kobe's 60 Ranks Among All-Time Great Final Career Games

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 13, 2020

Where Kobe's 60 Ranks Among All-Time Great Final Career Games

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Contrary to what sappy sports movies would have you believe, most NBA careers aren't afforded a storybook ending.

    Father Time's unblemished record becomes overbearing, and far too often, the players seen during their final go-rounds hardly resemble the ones who gave us so many memories.

    But every now and then, the basketball gods throw a bone to an outgoing icon and let that player exit on top. Fortunately, that was the case for the late, great Kobe Bryant, who wowed audiences, teammates and even opponents with a 60-point sendoff on April 13, 2016.

    It was Black Mamba magic, the perfect cap to a career defined by unrelenting competitiveness and nearly unrivaled scoring.

    But how did it compare to history's other great finales? That's what we're here to answer by ranking the best final performances by production, efficiency and significance.

8. Dirk Drops 20 and 10

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    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    Dirk Nowitzki saved his best for second-to-last, as the most memorable moment from his final campaign came during its penultimate night. On April 9, 2019, the 7-footer wowed the Dallas Mavericks faithful for the last time with a 30-point sendoff during his closing performance on his home floor.

    But the calendar called for one more show, so he was back at it the following night for a road visit to the San Antonio Spurs. Even if his trademark shooting efficiency didn't make the trip (8-of-21 from the field, 2-of-6 from three), he still impressed the Alamo City crowd with his only double-double of the season, pairing his 20 points with 10 rebounds.

    The 7-footer drilled his final bucket—an 18-foot jumper from the top of the key—and exited amid a standing ovation and "MVP" chants.

    "I think it's really appropriate that our last images of Dirk playing in an NBA game are him putting up games like tonight and last night," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "It will never be the same after this."

    During Nowitzki's second-to-last game, he joined Michael Jordan as the only 40-somethings to engineer a 30-point performance. In Nowitzki's final outing, he became only the fifth 40-something to tally 20 points and 10 boards.

7. Hondo Goes for 29 Points and 9 Dimes

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    John Havlicek's motor never shifted out of high gear, and he rode that full-throttle approach right into the Hall of Fame. When he finally called it quits in 1977-78, he exited as the league's then-all-time leader in games played, and he held top-10 rankings in minutes and points. A 1978 article by Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick labeled Havlicek "perhaps the finest player in the history of the NBA."

    Hondo, an eight-time champion, was hoops royalty, and the basketball world treated him as such. He was celebrated at every stop of his farewell tour, but that didn't alter his all-effort, all-the-time approach. He averaged 16.1 points on 44.9 percent shooting in his last go-round, and that scoring average was even boosted by his last trip inside the lines.

    On April 9, 1978, Havlicek steered the Boston Celtics to a 17-point victory over the Buffalo Braves with 29 points, nine assists and five rebounds. It was his third consecutive game with 20-plus points, a streak that sandwiched around his 38th birthday.

    Over 40 years have passed since that night, and it's still one of just two games in which a player age 38 or older has posted a 29/9/5 stat line.

6. D Wade Triple Dips

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Dwyane Wade shared plenty with two-time Finals adversary Dirk Nowitzki, including essentially two career finales on (the same) back-to-back nights to end the 2018-19 season. In fact, Wade even matched Nowitzki's last home showing with his own 30-point performance, only Wade's was more efficient (10-of-23, 4-of-10 from range).

    For an encore, Wade booked it up to Brooklyn and found a storybook ending fit for Broadway.

    In front of a packed house that included banana boat crew members LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, Wade traveled through time to record his first triple-double since 2011. He paced the Heat in points (25) and assists (10) while fittingly sharing the rebounding lead with longtime running mate Udonis Haslem (11).

    "To be able to go out here and understand that my last game, I wanted it to be about my teammates as much as possible," Wade said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "To be able to pass the ball, get the triple-double and all those things. So I accomplished that."

    This was only the eighth triple-double in NBA history by a player age 37 or older. Wade's 25 points were by far the most scored in those eight (Elvin Hayes ranked second with 16).

5. Reggie Miller Scores 27 On 16 Shots

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    TOM STRATTMAN/Associated Press

    Reggie Miller's Hall of Fame resume was overloaded with accolades, but the one absent achievement was winning a championship. He may never have checked that box, but he fought until the very end to do so.

    He suited up for the last time on May 19, 2005, a little over three months away from his 40th birthday. It was the second round of the playoffs, and his sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers were trying to dethrone the defending champion Detroit Pistons.

    As Indiana's new core players collapsed in the series—Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley all shot below 40 percent—Miller did everything he could to keep his club alive. It wasn't enough, but it was incredible to see. In Game 6, his final NBA appearance, he scorched Detroit's stingy defense for 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting and 4-of-8 from range.

    Miller's 27 points tied for the 13th-most ever scored in a playoff game by a player age 39 or older. The only players to clear that number were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Miller himself.

4. The Admiral Exits with a Title

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    David Robinson had an innate ability to deliver whatever was needed, be that 71 points for a scoring title, a quadruple-double or even a perfectly timed bout with the injury bug that helped the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs sink to the bottom, win the lottery and lure Tim Duncan to the Alamo City.

    Even at the tail end of Robinson's age-37 season, he still knew when and where to scratch San Antonio's itches.

    In Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals, he dialed back the clock with a desperately needed double-double. He scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, snatched 17 rebounds, blocked two shots and tossed an assist in his 31 minutes. Seven of those boards came during a fourth quarter in which the Spurs flipped a six-point deficit to the New Jersey Nets into an 11-point, championship banner-raising triumph.

    "My last game, streamers flying, world champions. How could you write a better script than this?" Robinson asked.

    His 17 rebounds remain tied for the most ever in an NBA Finals game by a player age 37 or older.

3. The Mamba's 60-Piece

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    While a select number of players are allowed to go out on a high note, Bryant took a different spin with his finale. A historically ferocious competitor, he raised the bar for NBA exits.

    Everything about it felt perfectly Mamba. The Staples Center was packed to the brim and overflowing with Los Angeles Lakers legends and Hollywood stars. The workload defied logic. At 37 years old and in his 1,346th career game (1,566th if you add the playoff mileage), he logged a game-high 42 minutes and launched more shots than the league had seen in almost five decades (50).

    The Lakers gave him complete control of the offense, and he put on a dazzling display of determination and, eventually, basketball excellence. It wasn't always the cleanest performance—he had five misses and a turnover before his first bucket—but the perseverance was admirable. Once things started clicking, the hoops world knew that it was witnessing history.

    Bryant scored 23 of his 60 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Lakers rally from a 15-point deficit to the Utah Jazz. L.A. was still down 94-84 with 3:05 remaining before he summoned a game-changing 15-2 run of his own. He scored 17 of the Lakers' final 19 points—and assisted on the other two—to help them secure a 101-96 win.

    "The perfect ending would have been a championship," Bryant remarked afterward. "But tonight was [me] trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time."

2. Wilt Sees 20/20

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Wilt Chamberlain had video-game numbers before people were even playing them. He routinely made the impossible a reality, whether that was scoring 100 points in a single game or averaging 50.4 points over an entire season.

    The final appearance of his career—Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals—was yet another mind-boggler.

    While he couldn't will his Los Angeles Lakers past the New York Knicks, it wasn't for a lack of trying. The 36-year-old played all 48 minutes and used them to pile up 23 points and 21 rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting. Oh, and he did that while dueling with fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed, who finished with 18 points and 12 boards.

    Only 64 players have ever posted a 20-point, 20-rebound line in the playoffs. Only four have done so at age 36 or older.

1. Bill Russell Grabs 21 Boards And A Ring

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    Harold Filan/Associated Press

    All Bill Russell did was win, win, win—no matter what. (Sorry.) The Hall of Famer has more rings than fingers (11), and he captured his last two championships with the impossible-to-imagine-now title of player-coach.

    That's how the NBA's biggest winner can hold the title of the greatest final career outing for a game in which he scored just six points on seven shots. He didn't build basketball's grandest jewelry collection with scoring. He understood the multitude of ways to help his team other than point production: rebounding, shot-blocking (and allowing his team to control them), rim-protecting and passing.

    His last appearance came on the road and in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals. He played all 48 minutes, paced the Celtics in rebounds (21) and assists (six) and helped hold a Lakers team that averaged 112.2 points on 46.9 percent shooting to 106 on 40.2. Oh yeah, and he coached the freaking team, which sort of seems like a lot to juggle in a winner-take-all championship match against a club with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

    "It was if we weren't supposed to win," West said afterward. "We had the personnel. We had everything. Boston had Russell."

    There might've been bigger numbers from other players' finales, but serving as a legitimate difference-maker as a player and a coach in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is as good as it gets.

                    

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.