Reprinted from yesterday's editions
They all kept checking the scoreboard, because it couldn't be true, couldn't possibly be. Jack Nicholson, who's seen nearly every home game the Los Angeles Lakers have played, John McEnroe, who's seen nearly everything -- they kept looking up, just like Shaquille O'Neal and Rick Fox and the rest of Kobe Bryant's teammates.
It wasn't so much that Bryant was on his way to a 55-point night in the Lakers' 108-94 win over the Washington Wizards. They had all expected him to explode Friday night, what with the challenge of playing against Michael Jordan for the last time. But 23 points in a row? Bryant didn't just go on a run toward the end of the first quarter and into the second, he went on the run to end all runs, scoring every Lakers point for more than five minutes straight.
"Kobe Bryant, two points," the public address announcer said after a driving layup through all kinds of traffic that started the spurt. "Kobe Bryant," he said when Bryant hit a 26-footer a few seconds later, "for three." Soon, the tired man just started saying "Kobe" when Bryant scored, on a 17-foot turnaround jumper here, another driving layup there.
It was a performance, and the fans knew it, chanting, "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe," until they were hoarse. In response, Bryant smiled a little, but not too much, not to show this was anything but the way he worked. He has chafed in the past at comparisons to Jordan, ardent that he is his own man. He even spent the last few days playing down this final game, saying he was more focused on the Lakers' playoff position.
But there was no doubt once he was on the court that he intended to make a statement.
"Kobe is the one who has to carry the game a little bit tonight," Coach Phil Jackson had said before tip-off. By halftime he was smiling.