BOSTON (CBS) – The story of what appeared to be a powerful gesture by current Celtics forward Gordon Hayward during Kobe Bryant’s final game went viral Monday night. But Hayward himself stepped in to clarify that things weren’t as they appeared.
During an appearance on The Ryen Russillo Podcast, broadcaster Mike Tirico remembered Bryant fondly a day after the Lakers legend’s stunning death.
Tirico recalled Bryant’s final game, a matchup between the Lakers and Hayward’s Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. During the contest, Bryant led a furious Lakers comeback as he poured in 60 points at the close of his 20-year career.
Sitting at 59 points, Bryant stepped to the line for one free throw with 14.8 seconds to play. As Bryant shoots the free throw, the camera catches Hayward stepping one foot into the paint.
— The Ringer (@ringer) January 28, 2020
In telling the story, Tirico said Hayward intentionally stepped in the lane as a sign of respect, believing that if Bryant missed the free throw he would get a second chance to reach 60 points because the referee would have called a lane violation.
Thousands of people retweeted Tirico’s telling of the story Monday night, with most praising Hayward. But Hayward later jumped in to say the move was not intentional.
The Celtics forward said Bryant’s death has been “incredible heartbreaking” for him, adding he had a personal relationship with Bryant and he has “struggled so much with trying to understand the devastating news.”
“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,” Hayward wrote. “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!
— Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
Hayward concluded the Twitter thread by saying he was honored to have shared time with Bryant, both on and off the court.
Tirico later responded to Hayward’s thread, saying he was glad for the clarification.
Please check out this thread from @gordonhayward, so glad he clarified what I had always assumed was intentional that night. Our paths have never crossed since that night. Thank you @espn for reairing Kobe’s final game. Still all so hard to believe. https://t.co/iWRzjIaTPl
— MikeTirico (@miketirico) January 28, 2020
Bryant, 41, was killed Sunday along with his daughter and seven other people when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in California.