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Kobe Bryant’s final game overshadowed a record-breaking team: How to build a legacy that lasts

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He holds a PhD in church history from BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.


Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant pounds his chest after the last NBA basketball game of his career, against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant pounds his chest after the last NBA basketball game of his career, against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Five years ago today, NBA fans watched in awe as two historic events competed for their attention. 

When the Golden State Warriors tipped off against the Memphis Grizzlies, they sat tied with the 1995–1996 Chicago Bulls for the most regular-season wins in NBA history. A victory that night would mean the chance to move one more rung up the ladder and take hold of a record that is likely to stand for a very long time. 

In any other year, that opportunity would have placed them at the center of the basketball universe. However, 2016 was The Year of Kobe, and the Lakers’ icon put on a spectacle of his own to make sure his star would shine brightest one last time. 

Despite struggling with both his health and his play for much of the season, Bryant put up a career-high fifty shots en route to sixty points—including the game-winner with 31.6 seconds remaining—in a performance that served as a fitting finale to a twenty-year career as one of the NBA’s greatest scorers. 

The Warriors’ win was arguably of greater historical significance than the performance by Bryant, in which no records were broken and the statistics of greatest prominence pertained more to inefficiency and ball dominance than numbers worthy of emulation. Regardless, Golden State’s victory serves today as more of an interesting footnote to Kobe’s final farewell than as the night’s most memorable achievement. 

Both games remain an enduring part of NBA history, and I bring them up today because they can teach us an important lesson about building a legacy that lasts. 

Defining a legacy

Kobe Bryant’s career highlight reel is littered with images of trophies, game-winning shots, and iconic displays of dominance that culminated on the night of April 13, 2016. But it was the countless shots after practice, tireless work ethic, and pursuit of greatness in the everyday facets of his life that laid the foundation for the moments of greater significance. Taken together, they all added up to make an otherwise meaningless game the most important and enduring event on a night when history was made by someone else. 

In the same way, our lives are likely to have a few truly defining moments, but the degree to which they are significant will depend largely on what we choose to do in the seemingly insignificant periods in between. 

We see this pattern play out in Scripture as well. Paul, for example, is best remembered by history for the letters he wrote and iconic stories like standing before the Areopagus (Acts 17:22–34). But it was the years spent becoming an expert in Jewish law and Greek philosophy, as well as the daily encounters with God through prayer, that helped to make those achievements possible. 

His commitment to devote himself to the Lord in the seemingly insignificant moments made the significant ones possible. 

Many people waste their lives searching for the chance to do something significant, oblivious to the fact that such moments elude them because they have ignored the multitude of seemingly insignificant opportunities to make a difference that God brings them each day. 

Let’s choose a better path today, one in which we build our legacy by demonstrating to the Lord that he can trust us with the big moments because we have been faithful with the small (Luke 16:10). 

How will you choose to build your legacy today?