Father Time will have his moment. The same goes for his creepy little bro, Uncle Injury... as well as their other crazy relative, Goodol’ Inside Demon. Isiah Thomas said it best when he said that there will be a time when a player would rather sit and stare at the sun than train like hell.
It’s the swan song...
The last hurrah...
It's the fitting end of a landmark career.
Some players go all out on their last game. It’s like... they saved their best performance for the final stretch. These icons would play like there is no tomorrow... because they figuratively do not have one.
So here are ten NBA legends that had the best parting shots. In order to qualify on this list, they should have an MVP award, become part of at least three All-NBA squads, or at least five All-Star invites.
And of course, they had to play their last game.
San Antonio Spurs versus Golden State Warriors
Game 5 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round
I guess I am stretching this entry. I made a cap and I destroyed that cap by inserting a two-time All-NBA, a two-time All-Star, and a one-time Sixth Man of the Year. With that said, there is a reason why Manu Ginobili's name is synonymous with winning. As Argentina's top dog, he helped his country score an Olympic gold medal. As one-third of San Antonio's Big Three, the core comprised of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were good for four championships. And against a Golden State squad in search of gold, Ginobili did his best to raise his team to victory. Sure, the Spurs were eliminated in the first round but Ginobili finished his career with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Detroit Pistons versus Philadelphia 76ers
April 26, 2012
Big Ben doesn’t have the same name recognition as the other players on this list. In fact, Ben Wallace never had a double-digit season and never had the same success outside of Motor City. But Wallace is a one-time champion, a three-time All-NBA Second Team member, a two-time All-NBA Third Team member, and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year awardee. Anyway, Big Ben returned to Detroit during the 2011-12 NBA season but as a shell of his former self. He even wore a different number because Rodney Stuckey wouldn’t give his old number. In his last game though, Wallace turned back the clock with seven points, 12 rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block. Too bad his Pistons were already eliminated from title contention.
Los Angeles Lakers versus Houston Rockets
Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round
Magic Johnson initially retired before the 1991-92 NBA season after he went HIV positive. Magic had other basketball happenings (the Olympics, for one) but his first retirement is more of a "what if". Johnson would surprise all when he made his return after five years of inactivity and a failed coaching stint. Johnson would re-debut in 1996 sans his Showtime buddies and a season before the entry of one Kobe Bryant. Magic also returned as a power forward... and it feels as if he’s out of position. The Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets in four games with Magic struggling for eight points, five rebounds, five assists, and an atrocious 2-of-8 shooting from the field. Magic would permanently retire before the 1996-97 NBA season.
Detroit Pistons versus Orlando Magic
April 19, 1994
Zeke and his Bad Boys personified blue-collar basketball. But after winning two titles, they faced a mammoth of a roadblock that is Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and would never regain past glory. With most of the Bad Boys retired or playing elsewhere, Isiah Thomas decided that he would retire after the 1994 NBA Playoffs. Fate would play a nasty trick on Zeke though because not only would he finish his career a month early due to a torn Achilles tendon, he would miss his chance to represent USA basketball as part of Dream Team 2. Thomas would play his final game with 12 points, five rebounds, six assists, and a woeful 4-of-18 shooting. Detroit would then select Grant Hill in the 1994 NBA Draft and would have Joe Dumars as the final remnant of the Bad Boys era.
Utah Jazz versus Sacramento Kings
Game 5 of the 2003 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round
After two decades of playing for Salt Lake City, John Stockton is widely considered one of the greatest point guards of all time. It’s actually funny that Stockton and Michael Jordan started and finished their NBA careers in the same year as they were part of the star-studded 1984 NBA Draft. But before retiring, the 41-year-old playmaker tried to carry the fight alongside tag team partner Karl Malone against the team that tormented them the previous season, Sacramento Kings. It was all for naught though as the Kings would pound on the Jazz to face the Dallas Mavericks. Stockton would finish his final game with eight points and seven assists on 3-of-7 shooting.
Boston Celtics versus Cleveland Cavaliers
Game 4 of the 1992 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Semifinals
May 17, 1992
Larry Bird is seen by many as one of the greatest all-around players to suit up in the NBA. But even he can’t win against wear and tear. Larry Legend spent his final seasons bothered by recurring back problems. In 1992, it felt as if he’s staging a superstar comeback – highlighted by a 49-point output against the Portland Trail Blazers. But then, his back problems returned. In fact, it caused the Celtics to lose their East semis matchup against the Cavaliers in which Bird sat out the last three games. In his final game, Larry Legend had 12 points, five rebounds, and four assists. He also shot just nine attempts in 33 minutes. Bird would win a gold medal as part of the original Dream Team and would retire from the sport days after.
Miami Heat versus San Antonio Spurs
February 9, 2016
Of all the names on this list, CB4 is the one we never saw coming. For starters, Bosh finished his career at 31 years of age. Most of the names on the list were forced out because of age and injuries but prior to his blood clot issues, Chris Bosh rarely gets injured. In fact, Bosh only had three seasons wherein he played in under 60 games and one of the seasons was a lockout year. What sucks about his departure is that he was on the cusp of reclaiming his old dominant form. Playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh accepted his role as the third guy. After scoring 18 points, 5 rebounds, two assists, and a steal in almost 35 minutes, Bosh was forced out of the game.
Washington Wizards versus Philadelphia 76ers
April 16, 2003
I know Michael Jordan had to make his second comeback but dammit, I thought the second three-peat was the perfect exclamation point to a superb career. I mean he could have retired with a trophy in his mantle and instead he retired with Kwame Brown (reluctantly) at his side. Anyway, at the start of the 2002-03 NBA season, MJ would announce that he’ll finally ground Air Jordan. Throughout the season, fans drove in flocks just to see His Airness impress with his brand of play. But then, it feels as if he is now contented in taking the spotlight out of himself. This is basically the antithesis of what Kobe Bryant did during his last game. Jordan would finish his career with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, and 6-of-15 from the field in 28 minutes of action.
Orlando Magic versus Charlotte Hornets
Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round
April 30, 2002
Once the cornerstone of the New York Knicks franchise, the Patrick Ewing we have at this time is a man who has lost his superstar qualities and is transitioning to become a head coach. But before he retired, Ewing tried to unleash his old dominant self against the Baron Davis-led Charlotte Hornets. Unfortunately for Orlando, they succumbed to the Hornets in four games. In his final game though, Ewing would score a double-double – eleven points, ten boards, plus an assist, steal and block. Ewing would relay his game expertise as an assistant coach to different teams and is currently the head coach of his old college squad, the Georgetown Hoyas.
San Antonio Spurs versus Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Semifinals
May 12, 2016
After a woeful campaign, San Antonio was "forced" to select Tim Duncan as the top pick of the 1997 NBA Draft. The Big Fundamental would rack up accolade after accolade including a couple of major individual awards and five NBA titles. San Antonio was poised to finish 2016 on a high note but the Spurs blew a 2-1 lead to give OKC three straight wins and a chance to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Finals. In typical TD fashion, Duncan would then shock everyone when he decided to retire. In Game 6 of the Spurs-Thunder duel, Duncan would finish with 19 points, five rebounds, and a block in 34 minutes of action.
Philadelphia 76ers versus Milwaukee Bucks
Game 5 of the 1987 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round
May 3, 1987
At the start of the 1986-87 NBA season, the 36-year-old Dr. J announced that this season would be his last. So what better way for Julius Erving to exit than with a championship celebration! Easier said than done though as Irving and the Sixers faced the team that eliminated them in the previous season, the Milwaukee Bucks. The series had its moments, including one heck of a play from Jack Sikma in Game Three that could have given the Sixers the chance to play the Boston Celtics in the next round. Instead, Erving would leave the game with 24 points, four rebounds, a couple of assists, three steals, and a productive 10-of-24 from the field.
Dallas Mavericks versus San Antonio Spurs
April 10, 2019
With nagging injuries and the acquisition of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the German sharpshooter that revolutionized the forward/center position has decided to retire after two decades with the Dallas Mavericks. Needless to say, Dirk went out with a bang. Facing perennial rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, the Dunking Deutschman turned back time and tried his darndest to eke out a victory. Nowitzki would finish his career scoring 20 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and two triples in nearly 32 minutes of action. Not bad for a Euro kid that Dallas acquired from Milwaukee for Robert "Tractor" Traylor.
Miami Heat versus Brooklyn Nets
April 10, 2019
It's fitting that Dirk and Dwyane Wade would finish their careers on the same day. The Miami versus Dallas rivalry is underrated but had a 1-1 record because of the superstar modes of these icons. Like the top guy on this list, Dwyane Wade announced his retirement at the start of the year. His credentials speak for itself - D-Wade is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Also, he ended his career with a triple-double. Sure, Brooklyn manhandled Miami but seeing D-Wade get back to boss mode is such a delight. The Flash finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and a block. Sure, he also went 3-of-13 from the three-point arc but to further make this exit awesome, running buddy Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 11 rebounds in almost 30 minutes of action. As of this update, Haslem is still playing in the NBA.
San Antonio Spurs versus New Jersey Nets
Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals
June 15, 2003
The Admiral won titles in the NBA as well as Olympic medals when he represented Team USA. As far as individual accolades go, the mere fact that he recorded a quadruple-double says a lot about his beastly ways. I think it’s safe to say that David Robinson had an awesome basketball career. But with the emergence of Tim Duncan, Robinson decided to call it a career. Unlike most of his contemporaries though, The Admiral ended his career with a championship. Against Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets, Robinson turned to his old self and in 31 minutes, had 13 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks, and a whopping 6-for-8 from the field. The former Navy standout entered the team with so much hype and finished it as if to tell everyone to believe it.
Los Angeles Lakers versus Utah Jazz
April 13, 2016
Pundits say Kobe Bryant is a ball hog who wants the spotlight on himself (I personally liked his game after he changed his number). Well for all the years he had this “selfish” tag... his farewell game takes the cake. With the Lakers’ postseason over before it began, Kobe gave his fans as well as his critics a moment to remember. In 42 minutes of action, the Black Mamba went 22-of-50, nailed six triples, and missed just two of his free throws to end up with 60 points. Yes, the guy who just announced his retirement at the start of the season just nailed five-dozen points! Obviously, this is the best farewell scoring game in NBA history. His scoring output still wins against the combined farewell scoring outputs of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, and Magic Johnson. Bryant also had four boards, four dimes, a swipe, and a swat. While he spent the latter part of his career nursing his injuries, Kobe made sure that he’s going to go out with a bang.
Actually, looking at this from a wider perspective especially leading to the events of his passing, the awesomeness of how Kobe Bryant does things is just that great.