In Kobe Bryant’s last game, in 2016, Gordon Hayward — then with the Utah Jazz — appeared to pull off a small act to make sure the late star was able to finish with 60 points.
Play-by-play man Mike Tirico explained what happened on the latest episode of The Ringer’s “Ryen Russillo Podcast.” According to Tirico, Hayward intentionally committed a lane violation on Bryant’s last free throw just to make sure Bryant had a chance to get to 60 in case he missed the free throw.
The Lakers won, 101-96. Bryant scored 13 points in the final 2:20 of the game to give him an even 60 points.
“That, to me, was the most unique example I could give to people of the fraternity of the NBA and the reverence for greatness in the NBA is at a different level than any of the other sports that we watch or cover,” Tirico said. “It was like Gordon Hayward, his team losing in this game, they blew a lead, blah blah blah. He had the complete wherewithal at 59 [points] to just put a foot in the lane and look over at the ref in case Kobe missed it to make sure he got another shot at 60.”
“That is just one of those things that nobody ever remembers, that very few people see,” Tirico added. “But every time I see Gordon Hayward, I think of that. I’m like, ‘You know what, dude, you get it. You get it at a level that other people don’t, and I’m a fan of yours for life for that.’ ”
The reverence for greatness in the NBA is at a different level than in any other sport. @miketirico explains to @ryenarussillo how a moment between Gordon Hayward and Kobe Bryant was the truest embodiment of that.— The Ringer (@ringer) January 28, 2020
Full pod: https://t.co/TjAPJOEZTt pic.twitter.com/02sn3AFKNK
But late Monday night, Hayward took to social media to dispute the story:
“The past day has been incredibly heartbreaking for me. Kobe is someone that I looked up to and admired and developed a personal relationship with. I have struggled so much with trying to understand the devastating news and like many others I’m still trying to process it.
“It has also come to my attention that there is a story going around tonight about an intentional lane violation that I took to ensure Kobe would get his 60th point in his final game and many are applauding me for the gesture. The fact of the matter is that is not true.
“That was a night that I will truly never forget as I can remember almost every moment of it and my goal that night was to compete as hard as I possibly could against Kobe because that is what he was all about and I wanted to give him my very best.
“He got 60 on me and I didn’t give him anything free all night. What happened on the free throw line was not intentional. Kobe would have lost respect for me if I gave him something free. That’s what made him so very special!”
Tirico responded on Twitter and confirmed his version of the story was based on an assumption.
Please check out this thread from @gordonhayward, so glad he clarified what I had always assumed was intentional that night. Our paths have never crossed since that night. Thank you @espn for reairing Kobe’s final game. Still all so hard to believe. https://t.co/iWRzjIaTPl— MikeTirico (@miketirico) January 28, 2020
Follow Christopher Price @cpriceglobe.com.