Way To Go Kobe

The Economic Times - - Sports - Mark Lam­port-Stokes

Mo­ments be­fore start­ing the fi­nal game of his stel­lar 20-year ca­reer in the NBA, Kobe Bryant was de­scribed as "the great­est" ever to wear the pur­ple and gold by fel­low Los An­ge­les Lak­ers great Magic John­son.

Bryant, an 18-time All-Star guard who went on to en­gi­neer a thrilling, come­from-be­hind 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz on his much an­tic­i­pated league farewell, was given a lengthy video trib­ute be­fore John­son walked out to cen­ter court.

"We are here to cel­e­brate greatness," John­son, like Bryant a five-time NBA cham­pion, told the sell­out crowd. "For 20 years, ex­cel­lence. For 20 years, Kobe Bryant has never cheated the game, he has never cheated us as fans. He has played through in­jury, he has played hurt and we have five cham­pi­onships ban­ners to show for it."

Huge roars then rang out as the Lak­ers fans gave Bryant thun­der­ous ap­proval.

"For the last 20 years, this man has been the big­gest and great­est celebrity we have had in this town," said John­son. "He is not only a great and un­be­liev­able sports icon but he's also the great­est to wear the pur­ple and gold. "So right now we should put our hands to­gether for the late great (for­mer Lak­ers owner) Jerry Buss for trad­ing for this man." Bryant ended Wed­nes­day's game with 60 points on 22-of-50 shoot­ing as the Lak­ers fought back from a 15-point deficit at half­time and was again cheered loudly by the fans be­fore he ad­dressed them all from the cen­ter court.

"Man, I can't be­lieve how fast 20 years went by," he said, with a towel draped over his shoul­ders. "It's crazy, ab­so­lutely crazy to be stand­ing here on the same court with you guys, with my team mates be­hind me.

"I ap­pre­ci­ate the jour­ney we have been on, there have been a few ups and downs but the most im­por­tant part is that we all stayed to­gether through­out.

"All I can do here is thank you guys for all the years of sup­port, all the years of in­spi­ra­tion. This has been un­be­liev­able. I can't be­lieve it has come to an end," he said, be­fore gold and pur­ple con­fetti de­scended from the ceil­ing. Asked in his post-game news con­fer­ence how he felt about John­son la­belling him as the great­est Laker ever, Bryant replied: "I refuse to be­lieve it be­cause Magic is my hero ... and so he is, and al­ways will be, num­ber one for me." Pur­ple & Gold Trib­ute Pre-game, an­other video trib­ute to Bryant was played on the Jum­botron sus­pended from the rafters at Sta­ples Cen­ter, end­ing with the words 'Con­grat­u­la­tions on 20 years in the Pur­ple and Gold' em­bla­zoned on the screen.

In­di­vid­ual tributes from for­mer team mates and op­po­nents such as LeBron James, Pau Ga­sol, Stephen Curry, Dirk Now­itzki and Carmelo An­thony were played be­fore long-time Lak­ers fan and Hol­ly­wood great Jack Ni­chol­son wrapped things up.

"You have been an in­spi­ra­tion to us all and LA loves you," said Ni­chol­son.

At that point, fur­ther chants of "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe" rang out from the crowd as John­son walked across to em­brace Bryant and share a few pri­vate words.

Bryant then walked out to cen­ter court, ap­plaud­ing the fans with his hands raised high, then lifted his right arm in trib­ute be­fore blow­ing kisses to the crowd.

The 37-year-old Lak­ers guard has ce­mented his place among the pan­theon of NBA greats with a ca­reer that also in­cludes scor­ing ti­tles, the third-most points in league his­tory and a league most valu­able player award in 2008.

Though his beloved Lak­ers have splut­tered this sea­son to an em­bar­rass­ing record of 17-65, the worst for a fran­chise that has won 16 NBA cham­pi­onships, his league farewell sparked huge in­ter­est at the box of­fice for Wed­nes­day's game.

De­mand for tick­ets was as high as a piv­otal Lak­ers play­off game, rang­ing in the sec­ondary mar­kets from $700 to $10,000. Ac­cord­ing to Stubhub, owned by eBay and the largest on­line ticket re­sale site in the United States, the most ex­pen­sive ticket sold for Wed­nes­day's game went for $27,500.

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