Gordon Hayward on Kobe Bryant: 'He got 60 on me and I didn't give him anything free all night'

Throughout Kobe Bryant’s remarkable 20-year NBA career, sometimes the mystique surrounding his legend rose to a level greater than the reality. It was always hard to separate man from myth. This? This is not that.

In this case, the legend is very much real.

As everyone is wont to do in the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo wanted to explore the Los Angeles Lakers supernova’s legacy, so he invited former ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico on his podcast. Tirico called Bryant’s final game in 2016, the night he bid adieu with 60 points.

“The most unique example I could give to people of the fraternity of the NBA,” what raised the “reverence for greatness in the NBA at a different level,” Tirico said during a riveting story, was a seldom-recognized act of grace from former Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. The All-Star was tasked with guarding Kobe that night, and, according to Tirico, he intentionally committed a lane violation during Bryant’s final free throw in order to give him one final shot at 60 points should he miss. Bryant, of course, did not miss.

“He had the complete wherewithal at 59 to 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,” Tirico said. “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. I’m like, ‘You know what, dude? You get it at a level that other people don’t, and I’m a fan of yours for life for that.’”

Well, as it turns out, none of that was true, according to one Gordon Hayward.


“The past day has been incredibly heartbreaking for me,” Hayward wrote to start a Twitter thread. “Kobe is someone that I looked up to and admired and developed a personal relationship with. I have struggled so much with trying to understand the devastating news and like many others I’m still trying to process it.

“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! Rest In Peace Kobe. I’m so honored to have shared our time on and off the court together!”

Per Hayward, Bryant was never afforded a handout en route to 60, nor would one of the game’s most fearsome competitors have wanted it any other way. So, Hayward did get it at a level other people don’t.

Gordon Hayward says his best defense was not enough to stop a 37-year-old Kobe Bryant from scoring 60. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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