Mike Tirico: “Kobe gets fouled and he comes to the line... He hits the first one for 59... He’s at the line the second time and you gotta watch on the free throw line closest to Kobe; back to the camera is Gordon Hayward. Gordon Hayward steps into the lane as Kobe is about to shoot that last free throw for 60 in case he missed it to give him another shot for 60. That to me was the most unique example I could give people of the fraternity of the NBA, and the reverence for greatness in the NBA. The NBA is at a different level than any of the other sports that we watch or cover… He had the complete wherewithal at 59 to just put a foot in the lane and look over at the ref just in case Kobe missed it to make sure he got another shot at 60. That is just one of those things that nobody ever remembers; that very few people see. But every time I see Gordon Hayward, I think of that and I’m like, ‘You know what, dude, you get it, and you get it at a level that other people don’t and I’m a fan of yours for life for that.'” (Full Video Above)
Listen to famed sportscaster Mike Tirico relive what it was like to call the late great Kobe Bryant’s last game in the NBA, as the dearly departed basketball icon had one of the most unbelievable send offs in sports history.
On April 13th, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points versus the Utah Jazz on the last game of the regular season, as both teams had already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Tirico recalled one of the last plays of the game where Bryant was shooting two pressure-packed free throws with 14 seconds left to get him to 60.
Bryant hit the first throw to get him to 59, and that’s when Tirico gives his memorable tidbit.
Tirico says Jazz forward Gordon Hayward purposely stepped in the lane before Bryant took his second free attempt for 60 points, making sure he would surely be called for a lane violation if Bryant had missed the free throw. Bryant of course, made the second free throw, but would have been awarded another opportunity if he had missed because of Gordon putting his foot into the lane before Bryant missed the shot.
Hayward quickly took to Twitter after Tirico’s comments, vehemently denying that scenario in an emotional message that clarified his love for Bryant, and saying that he knew the fierce competitor in Bryant would never have wanted Hayward to give him a free a throw out of charity.
“It has also come to my attention that there is a story going around tonight about an intentional lane violation that I took to ensure Kobe would get his 60th point in his final game and many are applauding me for the gesture. The fact of the matter is that is not true.That was a night that I will truly never forget as I can remember almost every moment of it and my goal that night was to compete as hard as I possibly could against Kobe because that is what he was all about and I wanted to give him my very best. He got 60 on me and I didn't give him anything free all night. What happened on the free throw line was not intentional. Kobe would have lost respect for me if I gave him something free. That’s what made him so very special!”
UPDATE: Tirico responded to Hayward’s tweet saying he was ‘glad’ that Hayward clarified his memory of the play, and thanked ESPN for showing Bryant’s memorable finale on Monday night.