The final night of this year's National Basketball Association season is set to feature two potentially historic games before playoff basketball arrives this weekend.
First, Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s greatest stars for 20 years, will play in his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz to cap off his storied career. Then the Golden State Warriors have the chance to cement their season as the most successful of all time by winning their 73rd game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The end of an era
Bryant, five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, announced that the 2015-16 season would be his last in November in a poem he released in The Player’s Tribune.
"This season is all I have left to give/ My heart can take the pounding/ My mind can handle the grind/ But my body knows it's time to say goodbye," penned Bryant. During his "farewell tour" season the star player received standing ovations from fans around the country as he played in the arenas of his decades-long rivals for the last time.
This year Bryant set the record for most NBA seasons played with the same team: All 1,566 games of his career have been spent with the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite posting some of his lowest numbers, including a career-low field goal shooting percentage, Bryant loosened up this year as he, his teammates, and the league anticipated the end of the Kobe Bryant era in Los Angeles.
"It seems like yesterday we were the young, young ones," Bryant told The New York Times in December. "It’s just crazy to me, lining up with [Kevin Garnett] after all these years. It's nuts. Where did the time go?"
Bryant will end his career before a Los Angeles crowd hoping to witness the 18-time NBA All-Star's final appearance playing on the Staples Center court. The Pico Station Metro stop, blocks from the Lakers' home stadium, was renamed Kobe Station for the day by the city's transit authority. And even the cheapest tickets for the game, essentially meaningless for the franchise-worst 16-65 Lakers, were selling for hundreds of dollars on Wednesday.
Team with the most wins
More than 300 miles away, the Lakers' division rival Golden State Warriors will be playing a game that is also meaningless in the league standings but historic in its implications. On Sunday, the Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs to win their 72nd game, leaving them tied with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the most ever in a season. A win Wednesday would give Golden State more wins than any team in history.
"I knew what it was but you never really thought about it in perspective of anybody chasing it. It was kind of that number that was out there that seemed invincible," Golden State point guard Stephen Curry told ESPN Tuesday.
Led by Curry’s record-breaking offensive season and the defending-champion team behind him, the Warriors seem ready to break the record. But they are also looking ahead to the playoffs and what they hope will be another run that could culminate in an addition to their 2015 NBA title.
"It's a big deal for sure," he said. "It's our last regular-season game, our last tuneup before the playoffs and nobody wants to lose their last game going into the playoffs if you can avoid it, and obviously 73. We want to get that number. Why not?"
Depending on Utah's effort against Bryant and the Lakers and the outcome of the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, the Warriors will end up playing either the Jazz or Houston in the first round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday.