In honor of Kobe Bryant’s last game Wednesday night I’m going to rank the best career walk off finishes from some of the greatest athletes over the years.
Just a quick moment on Kobe, that was one of the most memorable performances that I will never forget. I watched it with my 91 year old grandpa as we both watched way past his usual bedtime. Sharing that moment with my grandfather who has been a Lakers fan since he moved out here in 1969 was very special. He doesn’t get excited too much from sporting events but Kobe down the stretch in the 4th quarter had him fist pumping alongside myself.
On to the list:
#5 – Bill Russell beats the Lakers in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals
He only scored 6 points but he was a vital part of the victory because he also coached the team as well.
Considered one of the greatest NBA upsets of all-time.
The last of the Russell’s and the 1960s Celtics championships, totaling 8 in all.
Russell saw flyers placed on every seat by Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke; Cooke had ordered thousands of balloons with “World Champion Lakers” printed on them to be dropped from the rafters of the Forum. The letter read that “when” the Lakers won, the USC marching band would play “Happy Days Are Here Again” and Chick Hearn would interview Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in that order…….Russell circulated that flyer in the Celtics locker room before the game, stating, “Those fucking balloons are staying up there”.
#4 – Derek Jeter walks off in his final game at Yankee Stadium
Wasn’t his final game ever but his last at new Yankee Stadium (the house the Jeter built).
It almost never happened as the Yankee bullpen blew a 3 run ninth inning lead to force the Yankees to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
In typical Jeter fashion, he slaps a line drive the other way as his single drives in the game winning run.
Much like other people on this list, that game, that at-bat, personified everything that made Jeter a legend.
After years of losing in Super Bowls, Elway finally broke through in 1997 in SB XXXII.
The ’98 Broncos run was nothing short of dominant and his performance in that Super Bowl cemented that.
It was not a guarantee that Elway would retire after that Super Bowl win but almost everyone involved sensed it was his last rodeo (ala 2015 Peyton Manning).
#2 – Kobe Bryant drops 60 points in his final game
Some might accuse me of recency bias, but anyone who watched Wednesday nights game knows that they will remember that game forever.
It perfectly encapsulated everything Kobe Bryant. He went out with no bullets to spare.
His final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter to win the game was vintage Kobe.
And that is what made this so memorable, he played the entire 4th quarter to the point of exhuastion to WIN the game.
#1 – Michael Jordan hits the game winner in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals
I don’t care if he came back for the Wizards 3 years later. Everybody who watched the ’98 Bulls knew it was Jordan’s last dance. Kobe could make the same decision down the road, would that invalidate his “walk off” ending? No
Jordan did it on the games biggest stage. Even Kobe said on Wednesday night that the perfect ending would have been a championship.
The final minute of that game was purely all Michael Jordan (2:30 min mark and on)
I still to this day remember where I was and how I felt watching Jordan’s mid-range jumper catch all net. I might not have appreciated till much later in my life, but even nearly 20 years later, I remember.