Duke basketball alum, Kobe Bryant’s last sub, puts up mysterious stats

Former Duke basketball player Ryan Kelly embraces Kobe Bryant (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Former Duke basketball player Ryan Kelly embraces Kobe Bryant (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Some inadvertent NBA stats honor now-late Kobe Bryant, and a Duke basketball alum who was once the star’s teammate put up a few such stats from across the Pacific Ocean hours before Sunday’s tragedy — but didn’t notice them until afterward.

Legendary NBA guard Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash just outside of Los Angeles on Sunday morning. A few hours earlier, what was Sunday evening in Japan, former Duke basketball player Ryan Kelly played in a game for the Sun Rockers Shibuya.

What’s the connection? Well, that depends on you, the reader. In other words, some may explain all of the following numbers as nothing more than a coincidence. To each his own.

What Kelly’s wife, Lindsay, tweeted late Sunday evening — Monday afternoon at their home in Tokyo — may make the most sense to those who, in times of sorrow, accept God’s plan is beyond our understanding yet seek comfort in signs of His presence.

See, as Lindsay noted, her husband scored 24 points in 24 minutes and 24 seconds of playing time just prior to the tragedy. In any other game, such number repetition would have simply been quite a coincidence and possibly gone unnoticed. That’s not likely the case here:

Of course, Bryant’s jersey number at the time of his retirement was also 24. And with four seconds to play on April 13, 2016, in Bryant’s final game — in which he famously scored 60 points for the only franchise he ever played for, the Los Angeles Lakers — Kelly became an answer to a future trivia question by becoming the last player to ever sub in for the legend (they embraced near midcourt).

But as was the case with so many bonds the renowned leader forged with younger athletes both on and off the court, his connection with Kelly — who averaged 6.0 points and 3.1 rebounds across four NBA seasons, including three in Los Angeles alongside Bryant — was, by Lindsay’s account, anything but trivial. Evidently, the same was true for the relationship between the Kelly and Bryant families, as one can feel by reading her entire heartfelt thread that preceded her tweet about the mysterious 24’s:

ESPN also noted some strange numbers, tweeting a few Sunday evening NBA stats from a pair of lifelong Bryant admirers. Like Kelly’s string of 24’s, these numbers also look and feel like anything but a mere coincidence. No, they feel as if a higher power was involved:

Atlanta Hawks second-year guard Trae Young, who opted to honor his childhood idol by wearing No. 8 against the Washington Wizards — Bryant wore No. 8 for his first 10 seasons before switching to No. 24 for his last 10 — and Phoenix Suns fifth-year guard Devin Booker, who always wears No. 1 and did so again against the Memphis Grizzlies, combined for 81 points.

Combining the above side-by-side pictures of the two also outputs 81.

And as all hoops nuts know, 81 was Bryant’s career-high point total on Jan. 22, 2006 (second-highest mark in league history). Stranger yet, Young hit 81 percent of his free throws against the Wizards (13-for-16).

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Plus, as ESPN noted, Young and Booker — who played at the same time in different locations and therefore had no way to influence what the other was doing — each had 24 shot attempts and combined for 24 makes.

In summary, Bryant was an inspiration to countless players and fans, particularly in his later years when he assumed the role of a mentor. His legend survives his death.

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As for the meaning of all the 24’s and 81’s that popped up on Sunday — no telling how many more are out there waiting for someone to discover them — well, that’s up to each individual reader to decipher.

In the meantime, everyone should agree it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reread all of Lindsay Kelly’s above tweets and then at least consider taking some of her advice to heart today.

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