LeBron James has long been the greater player in part because he intuitively grasps the collective essence of the game.
Kobe's last chapter has been an especially ugly one. He's shot as frequently as ever this season, despite plummeting accuracy, seemingly detached from the crumbling of the Lakers empire around him.
So when I tuned into the NBA on Wednesday evening, I did so expecting to celebrate the Warriors' quest for a record 73rd win. Golden State has been the antithesis of Kobe in 2015-2016, a joyous crew led by a different kind of maestro.
Steph Curry seems to feed off the love of his teammates, and he gives it back in kind. His Warriors whip the ball around with a kind of hive mind, never looking for one man so much as they're always looking for the open man.
Some have complained about Golden State attracting bandwagon fans. But we're not drawn to the wins. It's the beauty of the basketball.
Anyhow, the Warriors more than held up their end. The record victory over the Grizzlies was essentially sealed by halftime, and Curry scored 46 in just 30 minutes. He surpassed 400 made 3-pointers for the season. No other player has even exceeded 300. He has reimagined the game before our eyes, rendering the midrange attack Kobe mastered to relic status.
And yet … Kobe stole the night. He did it not by playing impeccable basketball but by willing himself to a closing argument that represented everything great and terrible about his career. He started off missing and even when he found a better rhythm, he insisted on firing heedlessly from 3-point range, where he's a dreadful shooter by any measure.
The Lakers trailed for much of the game and seemed on their way to a 66th loss, one that would be punctuated by an obligatory final ovation whenever Kobe subbed out a final time.
But the old mamba refused to leave the game and refused to stop shooting, and as the fourth quarter dawned, my goodness, the shots fell with greater frequency. As Kobe scored every point for the Lakers, the young Jazz gradually lost the thread of the game.
The great No. 24 got his 50 points and then his 60. Finally, in a gesture of supreme irony, he ended it with a long assist.
In the years to come, memories of Kobe's finale will flatten, and it will be spoken of as a purely brilliant performance — the basketball equivalent of Ted Williams slugging a home run in his final at bat.
But those of us who watched it should make sure to tell the tale in all its messy grandeur. Kobe scored the least pristine 60 points a basketball lover could fathom. He needed 50 shots to do it. He made just 6 of 21 3-pointers. (Up the coast in Oakland, Curry made 10 of 19.) For most of the night, he did not even consider flicking the ball to open teammates.
His performance was a testament to hubris as much as genius. And yet he remained fiercely true to who he was, for ill and ultimately, for good.