The 2015-16 Lakers season began as a milestone year before turning into a farewell tour for one of the greatest athletes of all-time.
If you had a front row seat to Kobe Bryant's 20th season, it might look something like this.
The Lakers are running 5-on-5 action during the third practice of training camp when Kobe jumps the passing lane and sprints the other way. With questions swirling about his health and ability to perform in his 20th NBA season, a layup is expected. Instead the Mamba takes flight and throws down the dunk.
The vet sits sandwiched between the Lakers future, joking with Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance, Jr., during the first preseason game of the 2015-16 campaign.
The team’s annual Open Practice event for season seat holders starts at 10:30 a.m., but No. 24 is out on the floor a full hour early, getting shots up from all over the court, with just the sound of a bouncing ball and snapping net echoing through the empty building.
A balloon arch spelling out ‘Lakers’ is set up for the gaggle of VIPs who will fly to Las Vegas for the preseason game against Sacramento. Kobe walks through while head coach Byron Scott catches up on the day’s news before boarding the team flight.
Kobe is surrounded while talking to the media on the eve of his 20th season opener.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak swings by for a quick conversation with his star after the Thursday afternoon practice.
A referee admires the warmup jacket as Kobe picks the night’s game ball. As nice as the attire is, the Mamba, a long-time Nike loyalist, can’t bring himself to agree.
Attacking the paint sucks the defense in, leaving the wraparound pass open, leading to an easy dunk for Roy Hibbert.
Saturday’s practice has wrapped up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A heavily wrapped Bryant crosses the street to catch a ride back to the hotel.
While his teammates hit the ramp, Kobe saunters over to the legendary freight elevator for a solitary ride before his last game at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The catacombs of the Garden seem even more empty after a late comeback by the home team spoils Bryant’s final performance in an arena where he once dropped 61.
Celebrating a win with Will Ferrell makes for a pretty nice, little Sunday.
Showing off that grown-man, three-piece swag on the way into STAPLES for a matchup with Toronto. #MambaStyle
Making sure that Raptors global ambassador, Drake, knows it’s all about the purple and gold when you’re at STAPLES, not the OVO black and gold.
The tools of the trade on display as Kobe takes a break during the matchup against the Blazers.
The walk across the tarmac after a trip in the Mamba Copter is a lot more convenient than battling the 405 during holiday season. Kobe heads into the terminal to get a fresh cut from his barber before hopping on the team flight to the Bay Area.
Breaking away for a moment of focus after the anthem in the East Bay.
The farewell tour is in full effect three days after publicly announcing that this season will be his last. An afternoon at the White House for lunch with President Obama doesn’t stop Kobe from going into full Mamba mode against the Wizards. He finishes with 31 points as the Lakers surprise Washington on the second night of a back-to-back.
Stopping to acknowledge the Motor City crowd as the Pistons PA announcer rattles off Bryant’s laundry list of career accomplishments.
Two stalwarts of the Lakers, Gary Vitti and Kobe Bryant, walk through the crisp Michigan evening, boarding another of the thousands of flights they’ve made together during their time with the team.
Kobe collects his warmup gear as the team attendant sees to other duties. After 24 minutes of action, the future Hall of Famer would let the kids go, allowing D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle to carry the load down the stretch.
Coming full circle. Kobe finds D’Angelo Russell and throws a consoling arm around him after the rookie’s overtime heroics fell just short, reenacting the scene between Shaq and Kobe during Bryant’s rookie season.
Tracy McGrady sat courtside in Houston alongside Steve Francis, watching their contemporary still going at it, long after both of them had hung it up. After the game T-Mac catches up with his former rival in the hallways of Toyota Center.
Flea and Kobe. Two of LA’s favorite sons. Two of the best at what they do. Two of the most loyal in Lakersland.
A smile creeps across Kobe’s face as he brings the ball up against former teammate, Trevor Ariza. The ex-Laker pays homage to the championship the two won together by wearing the 2009 Finals edition of the Nike Zoom Kobe IV.
The master of the baseline finds a way to hit the fadeaway from behind the hoop while falling out of bounds.
Surveying the action.
A smile and a wink for KD in the midst of Kobe catching fire for a five-minute stretch against the Thunder.
The 16th and final Christmas Day jersey with Bryant on the back is wrapped in parchment and sealed with a wax NBA logo.
The narrow hallway in Memphis leads to a tighter-than-usual pregame huddle for the Lakers and their captain.
A final thank you and goodbye to Kobe’s almost-home of Charlotte.
The Mamba finds a solitary moment in the back row of the players' section as the Lakers' flight taxis the runway in Bean Town.
Taking down the Celtics in Boston one last time leads to a moment of appreciation. “Honestly, if I could chant for them, I would. I don’t think the fans here really understand how much they drove me.”
Kicking it out in Sac-Town.
On the night that he surpassed 33,000 career points, Bryant finds time to hang with a couple of the French Train heroes he befriended earlier in the year, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone.
Whether it’s Frobe attacking the rim, the technician fading away baseline or KB rising up for a clutch 3, it’s never been hard to imagine Kobe flying beautifully.
Naw, but for real, what happened was…
On his last trip to Portland, Kobe pays homage to Dr. Jack Ramsay with a plaid suit that would rival any that the legendary Blazers coach famously wore throughout the '70s and '80s.
Kobe's normal pregame stretching routine is interrupted by a line of Silver Star dancers being led to the floor by someone that doesn't fit the build. A deadpanned "New dancer?" comment draws a laugh from the security guard.
And sometimes, when fadeaway 23-footers fall after multiple pump-fakes, you have to just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Soccer legend Thierry Henry is on hand to interview Kobe about their shared journey at the top of their sports. He stops by courtside to watch the Mamba work.
Getting right back up.
A dislocated finger late in the fourth quarter would render most players unable to continue. For Kobe, it just meant looking at his old friend, Gary Vitti, and saying, “Do something about it.” Vitti did, popping the finger back into place so Bryant could return to action.
“Legends. Brothers.” That’s how Pau Gasol captioned his version of this photo. Postgame, Kobe spoke about how much the Bulls’ tribute video, featuring his former teammate, Gasol, meant to him.
Twenty years of experience teaches a person a myriad of things. While this stage of his career requires more icing, he’s also become such a pro at it that he knows the trainer’s wrapping routines without even looking.
The first player to be honored with commemorative socks. Every Lakers player wore the 2-4 around their ankles in the win over the Warriors.
“6-6, out of Lower Merion High School…”
Kobe’s personal message to the only trainer he’s ever known, Gary Vitti: “You are the best. Thank you for always having my back and showing me how to act like a pro! I love you and appreciate you more than you will ever know.”
Always the coolest guy in the room.
Mamba vs. King
Two thumbs up, ready to go
Center of Attention
Eye of the Storm
As much as the Phoenix fans loved to hate Kobe, the feeling was mutual, "There's no misunderstanding, there's no wiggle room there — I hated them, absolutely.” In the end it was all respect on both ends.
Take 10 steps off the floor and you’re just someone’s dad.
A final signature for the Lakers faithful in Jazz country.
Calling for the ball.
A moment between GOATs.
A taste for the finer things.
All of the lights.
The penultimate pregame huddle at STAPLES Center.
Basketball Family. Kobe lifts Olympic teammate Chris Paul’s son, Little Chris, into the air following their final on court matchup.
After spinning away from Trevor Ariza baseline, Kobe finds himself with the advantage over once-teammate Dwight Howard. The Mamba rises and gets the finger roll to go.
The sun breaks through to welcome Kobe to his second-to-last flight as a professional basketball player.
Snake on a Plane
Looking towards his final road game.
In a pregame meeting with Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Bryant is presented with a photo book in which each Thunder player has written a personal memory about Kobe.
Kobe takes a minute to thumb through the gift, lingering on Durant’s page, while waiting for Westbrook to return. The L.A. native had a pair of custom Jordan 8s in Lakers colors for Kobe to sign, along with a gold No. 24 Lakers jersey for his mother. After the game KD would remark, "Once I got in the league, he easily became my favorite player."
The one and only #24 for the final time on the NBA hardwood.
Pulling up from 20 feet out for the 13,733rd career bucket. The final field goal of his career proves to be the final go-ahead shot as well for the man who relished crunch time as much as anyone.
Thank you, Kobe.
A night — and career — for the ages.