This is going to be another column about basketball in the US, so forgive and indulge me. I think one thing they do right in that country is hoops: for someone who loves the sport as I do, the American pro league is its pinnacle. (The college game, which I wrote about last week, gets near that peak too—it’s obviously less skilled, but can be every bit as exciting.)

For this column, though, the motivation is twofold.

First, one of the sport’s all-time greats played his last game on Wednesday. This is Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers. Twenty years he played the professional game, all with the Lakers. Along the way, he took them to five league championships.

He had a bad Achilles tendon injury three years ago—when he was 34 years old—and hoops watchers wrote him off as too old to recapture, if he recovered at all, the magic of his younger years. But he returned to the sport. This season, he even played a full slate of games. Though he did announce last November that he would retire at the end of the season.

It was a ghastly season for the Lakers, at least partly because Bryant was rarely the threat he has been for so long. Hopes of his team reaching the play-offs looked futile many months ago. So, when the last game of the season came around, on Wednesday, the only thing Lakers fans had to look forward to was saying goodbye to Bryant.

They might have expected a quiet ride into the sunset, a few points scored in another Lakers loss, plenty of bouquets and tributes, maybe a few tears. What they got instead was one final vintage, barnstorming Bryant performance.

Bryant attempted 50 two-point shots—which is, get this, 40 more than the most prolific of his teammates managed on the night. He tried another 21 from three-point range; all the other Lakers combined attempted four, three of them by one man. Bryant ended with 60 points; the next highest tally from a Laker was 12.

This was the flamboyant Bryant of his championship years. But these numbers even brought to mind the career-long whispers that he was occasionally given to showing off, to holding on to the ball instead of passing to someone else.

Still, this night, in his last professional game, in his team’s final game of the season, none of that mattered. This night was Bryant’s, to forge for himself one last blaze of glory. His 60 points kept his Lakers in the game even though they trailed throughout, kept them close enough that a spurt in the last minute pushed them over the line to beat the Utah Jazz.

No surprise, it was Bryant’s shot, with just 31 seconds left to play, that finally took the Lakers past the Jazz.

And just so did an adoring basketball world—fans, teammates past and present, opponents, even Jack Nicholson—say goodbye to Kobe Bryant.

Second, on the same night, the Golden State Warriors made a bit of history. One of the most celebrated team records in the NBA is the number of games won in a season. Michael Jordan’s great Chicago Bulls set the record in 1996, winning 72 games (out of the 82 games in the season).

Riding on the skills of an improbably short and slight man—well, by basketball standards—called Stephen Curry, the Warriors began this season on a tear, winning their first 24 games. That’s when talk of breaking the Bulls’ 20-year-old record began. The Warriors reached 72 wins last weekend, beating the league’s second-best team, the San Antonio Spurs, on the latter’s home court. All that was left to do was to return home and beat a scrappy Memphis Grizzlies team in the last game of the season.

If Bryant’s incandescence kept the Lakers within touching distance of the Jazz that night, Curry’s brilliance quickly left the Grizzlies gasping. He actually scored at the same pace as Bryant: when he finally left the game at the end of three quarters, he had racked up 46 points.

In doing so, he managed to set other marks as well. The 46 ensured that his season scoring average rose past 30. He also tossed home his 400th three-pointer (and the 401st and 402nd) of the season, which is a first. Not just that: he simply annihilated the previous record for three-pointers in a season, which was 286—a record which belonged to, wait for it, Curry, from last year. (And that 286 beat the previous record, which was 272—which belonged to, wait for it, Curry, from two years earlier.)

Numbers apart, the stellar Warriors season raised questions here and there about the nature of basketball, just as Bryant’s final bravura performance did. Curry’s remarkable shooting abilities, some watchers felt, might inspire kids to practice three-pointers over other basketball skills such as rebounding and passing.

And you need those skills, because you can’t consistently win basketball games merely by shooting from long range. You must learn to battle your way inside, to score from under or near the basket with defenders swarming all over you. You must learn to pass, and nothing shreds a defence quite as effectively as a smooth passing game. All this is how you win at hoops.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom. Yet, we do have the example of Curry, his hailstorm of three-pointers and his record-setting Warriors. Have they changed the nature of basketball, then? Are we entering an era in which games will play out as long-range shooting contests?

This fan doesn’t think so. The truth about the Warriors is that they do everything well. On top of that, they have Curry as that X factor who has the licence to shoot the three-pointer when least expected. That’s a formula that wins games for them, and handily—but it’s also one that’s going to be hard to copy.

“This Warriors season wasn’t how basketball was supposed to work," a report in The Guardian observed, “and woe to anybody who attempts to replicate it."

But to those among us who follow this sport, who marvel at the spectacular ways of the Currys and Bryants, no woe at all.

Once a computer scientist, Dilip D’Souza now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His latest book is Final Test: Exit Sachin Tendulkar.

His Twitter handle is @DeathEndsFun

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