Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center on Wednesday night, spry, nimble and, for now, completely healthy.
For one night, that meant everything was close to right in Lakers Nation.
Aside from the Lakers fading in the fourth quarter of a 112-111 loss to the heavy-hearted Minnesota Timberwolves — and considering the youth and inexperience of the Lakers you can expect a few more indecisive finishes this year — the 20th and presumably final opening night of one of the greatest Lakers went without a hitch.
And that was quite the sight for a bunch of sore eyes that took in nothing but misery the last two seasons.
He shaked and baked and rose and faded. He broke a few ankles with that still lightening-quick crossover, buried a 3-pointer in the face of rising star Andrew Wiggins and spun around then climbed above Tayshaun Prince for tough fall away.
He finished with 24 points, although it took 24 shots to get there and 10 of the misses came off the 13 3s he took.
Still, if you closed your eyes tight enough and dreamed just big enough, there were moments when it was 2009 and the Lakers were sitting shotgun on Kobe Bryant’s magic carpet ride.
But as we celebrated the return of Bryant after two injury-riddled years, we also began counting the days to his farewell. And while it was impossible not to keep one eye on the oldest Laker we couldn’t help keep the other on the youngest ones.
The night might have belonged to Kobe, but the season, the future and the next great Lakers journey is in the hands of all those kids his bosses in the front office surrounded him with.
We’ll spend the next six months coming up with a proper goodbye for Bryant. It will be emotional and painstaking and nostalgic. We don’t want to do it. But we know it’s time.
As we do, we’ll also open our arms and imagination to the next chapter.
That means getting familiar with Julius Randle and DeAngelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, the young core the Lakers have hitched their hopes to.
If Wednesday was any indication, there will be quite a bit to digest.
Some good, some bad.