March 28, 2003.
As a die hard Jordan Fan, March 28th felt like a funeral of sorts.
The Air Apparent dropped 55 on MJ’s helpless Wizards, 40 of those points coming in the first half. Jerry Stackhouse and Kobe’s old mate Tyronn Lue could do nothing as #8 was locked in from the moment that ball bearing David Stern’s signature went into the air at tipoff. All Michael could do was laugh as Kobe unleashed a plethora of moves and shots that looked eerily familiar. To add insult to injury, Kobe did all of this damage while wearing a fresh Laker themed pair of Air Jordan VIII’s.
At 14 years old I was distraught — almost 12 years later I now understand the beauty of that game. The torch had officially been passed for good. Jordan would retire at season’s end knowing that he was leaving the association in great hands going forward. Kobe Bean Bryant, hate him or love him, has been as important to the growth of the game as anyone before him or after him. Kobe’s focus always seemed to be a little sharper whenever he got the chance to take the court with #23, whether in Chicago Red or Washington Blue.