It was a night of celebration in a small town in South Dakota.
The Lakers were in town for a game.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were playing the Timberwolves.
It was the Lakers’ homecoming, the culmination of a season of hard work, self-discovery and redemption.
It was a Saturday night in February, and Bryant was wearing the number 7 for the first time in nearly three years.
It would be his last.
The game was in Minnesota, and the team’s first home game since losing the 2003 Finals to the Spurs.
They’d been trying to avoid the kind of disappointment that followed the Lakers collapse to the Suns in six games in 2003.
The Jazz, who had won six straight, led by as many as 25 points.
Bryant scored 20, including a jumper with 1.8 seconds left in regulation to seal the win.
The victory put the Lakers ahead for good.
But they were down by 15 with less than five minutes left in the game.
A missed shot from Bryant on a drive to the hoop bounced off the rim and into the stands, and it would be the final shot of the game, a devastating blow to a team that was on the verge of falling apart.
The Lakers would go on to win the next four games, and eventually the series.
Kobe and the rest of the Lakers team was stunned by the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
They would win the title.
But the night before the Lakers game, Bryant went to a local diner and decided to go for a walk.
Bryant, who’s still the star of his team, was in the middle of his workout and noticed a woman sitting next to him, and they began chatting.
They started talking, and after a minute, the woman started talking back.
She said she’d been drinking a lot and had her phone out for hours.
The next day, Bryant told reporters, he asked her to come over and hang out for a while.
She told him that he was in a bad mood and asked him to call her back, Bryant said.
The next day at practice, Bryant texted the woman back and said, ‘Hey, I just got back from a nice workout.
Just wanted to get some food and have a beer.
She said, You know, I’ll hang out with you sometime.’
I told him, ‘That’s great, I’d love to, I really would, but I can’t.
I’m just tired.’
She said no.
I texted back and she said, you’re not going to go, you just want to talk.’
And that’s when she said she was coming over.’
She asked me, ‘How about I go to your house and stay with you?’
So that’s the last time I ever talked to Kobe, according to Bryant.
He would later say, ‘She didn’t say she was going to be coming over to my house.
She said I was coming back.’
She would call him and say, Well, you know, it’s nice to have somebody around who can talk to you.’
She’d never come over, Bryant added, ‘and I would never have asked her.’
But that was not the end of the story.
The woman, who Bryant says is his girlfriend, would call again the following day and Bryant would say, She’ll come over to your place later, he would say.
And she’d say, Oh, come on, we can just hang out and watch a movie.’
Bryant would hang up the phone and go into the kitchen.
He’d call again and again.
And then the woman would call back.
She’d say she’d have a movie to watch and she’d be back later.’
And I was like, You can’t do that.
I don’t want to hang out.”
Because I know she’s going to come back.
I’ll have to leave.
I told her I was tired.
And that’s why I didn’t hang up,’ Bryant said in his first-ever interview about the incident.
The woman said Bryant would call her again, but he wouldn’t hang on.
She’d come back and hang up.
I remember looking out the window and Kobe was standing there and she was in my living room, sitting on the couch.
I was so happy, like, Oh my God.
And then I saw her and she just said, Hey, I was wondering if you wanted to come sit on the other side of the couch?
And I said, Why not?
She said the movie was coming out.
She didn’t want me to come in and tell her she couldn’t.
I was like what?
I said to myself, You don’t know me.
You know she was a good person.
So I said no and hung up.
The NBA would be forever changed.
The day after the incident, the Lakers released a statement.
‘We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of one