On Wednesday night, Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz in the final game of his 20-year NBA career, and there’s a certain Big Law partner who couldn’t have been happier about it.
Despite having grown up a fan of the Boston Celtics (the Lakers’ biggest rivals), Sheppard Mullin partner Richard J. Simmons has held Lakers season tickets since 1984. He said he goes to every game, even if it means asking a judge to schedule court hearings around it.
Simmons, a labor and employment lawyer, was on-hand for Bryant’s final virtuoso performance. He can prove it too: he’s the guy with the giant “KOBE” sign in the photograph above, taken on Wednesday.
If you don’t follow sports, scoring 60 points is an extraordinary effort from any basketball player, on any level, at any age. On Wednesday Bryant did it at age 37, before a home crowd, in his final game with the only NBA team he’s ever played for.
The third leading scorer in league history, Bryant has only scored 60 or more points five other times in his entire career. The highlights from the game are worth watching, as is this bit from his post-game press conference.
“I’ve teared up thinking about the suspense and drama associated with the build-up to this over the course of the season,” Simmons said. “I wasn’t sobbing, but I was with people who love Kobe so much. I saw some of that.”
We caught up with Simmons on Thursday to talk about the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, and LA’s final farewell to a legend.
Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Big Law Business: How long have you been a Lakers fan?
Simmons: I’ve had season tickets since 1984. I go to every game. I coordinate my schedule around it. When I’m asked to appear in court, I actually try to get the court to accommodate me. I grew up a Celtics fan, oddly enough. When the Celtics beat the lakers in 1984, all the Celtics fans I grew up with were extremely obnoxious, so much so that I couldn’t stand the Celtics after that.
Big Law Business: Who’s your all-time favorite Laker?
Simmons: Kobe has to be up there. He’s probably my favorite. But how can you not love Magic Johnson? How can you not love Jerry West? I loved Pau Gasol. I loved Robert Horry. I really admired Derek Fisher. It’s like a Charles Dickens novel with Kobe: he was the best of times and worst of times. He was extraordinarily willful and difficult to love at times, but having seen the great stuff he did again and again, it’s hard not to really admire him.
Big Law Business: What makes Kobe so special?
Simmons: He had passion for the game, and a dedication for greatness. I try to emulate him in my own practice. He’d do things to make himself better when others wouldn’t. He would work day in and day out. He had this tremendous intensity.
Have you seen the Nike “conductor” commercial? It talks about Kobe dealing with adversity and hostility. It’s not something I’m unaccustomed to as a lawyer. I think of myself not just as a good lawyer but a great lawyer. None of that comes naturally. I work hard. I’ve always used Kobe as a personification of what I hope to achieve professionally.
Big Law Business: Describe the atmosphere in the Staples Center last night.
Simmons: Unbelievable. Remarkable. Truly special. The phrase I was using at the end was “a storybook ending.” I got there about 5:00, thinking that would be leisurely for a 7:30 tip off. By the time I got there, there was a sea of people. It was strange to see so many people arriving early, in LA of all places. I go in a special entrance. It was funny to see Magic Johnson and other former lakers and celebrities showing up: these are people who are unaccustomed to standing in lines.
Big Law Business: How were you feeling during the the game?
Simmons: I didn’t think Kobe was gonna have much of a night. Then when he got to 30, I said, “Gee, he’s gonna go for 40.” Then all of a sudden he hits 40, and I said, “I can’t believe he’s gonna score 50. How can he score 50 at his age?” Then I saw it. Then I saw him get 60. It was amazing, even to me, and I’ve seen it before. I was at the 81-point game. It’s almost as though he scores 10 points at a time. It’s such a frenzy.
Big Law Business: Was the “KOBE” sign just for last night?
Simmons: I’ve done that for many years. I had a friend who had signs for lots of different players, and he asked me to do it. I have to tell you, I feel foolish holding up a sign. I told my friend, “I’m not gonna act like a 5-year old for anyone else. If I’m gonna debase myself it’s going to be for Kobe.”