Kobe Bryant will play the final game of his illustrious 20-season NBA career Wednesday when the Los Angeles Lakers play host to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Bryant announced his retirement effective at the end of the season on Nov. 29 in a poem titled “Dear Basketball,” published on the website The Players’ Tribune.
“This season is all I have left to give.
“My heart can take the pounding
“My mind can handle the grind
“But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
A video tribute to Bryant will be shown before player introductions and additional video tributes will be played during timeouts throughout the course of the game, John Black, the Lakers vice president of public relations, told City News Service.
Bryant will speak to the crowd at the conclusion of the game, Black said.
All fans in attendance will receive a commemorative program, T-shirt and ticket lanyard.
The Lakers issued a fraud alert on Monday to warn fans about the potential dangers of purchasing tickets for the game from third-party sources. The team encouraged fans to make their ticket purchases from the Lakers Ticket Exchange at Lakers.com.
“Lakers Ticket Exchange at Lakers.com is the only secondary site where purchases are authenticated and verified by Ticketmaster, and fans will be assured of entrance into Staples Center on game nights,” said Tim Harris, senior vice president of business operations/COO.
Between 350 to 400 members of the news media are expected to cover the game, Black said. A typical game would probably have 125 to 150 media members, according to Black.
A Fan Fest will be held from 4-7 p.m. outside of Staples Center and will include the photo opportunities with the five NBA championship trophies Bryant helped the Lakers win and the Laker Girls.
There will also be fan interactive games, a live disc jockey, a ticket giveaway to tonight’s game, face painters and a Kobe signing wall.
Admission is free.
To honor Bryant, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority renamed the Metro Blue/Expo Line Pico Station the “Kobe Station” for today. The station is two blocks from Staples Center.
The 6-foot-6-inch Bryant, a guard for most of his career but now listed as a forward-guard, has played in 65 of the Lakers’ 81 games this season, his most since the 2012-13 season. Injuries limited him to six games in the 2013-14 season and 35 in the 2014-15 season.
Bryant is averaging 16.9 points per game, his least in a season he has played at least 50 games since the 1997-98 season, his second, when he started just one game.
In the final road game of his career on Monday, the 37-year-old Bryant scored 13 points, all in the first quarter, when he played all 12 minutes. He played six minutes, 57 seconds for the rest of the 112-79 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and had his knees and shoulder wrapped in ice as he sat on the bench.
Bryant has showed flashes of his past brilliance this month, scoring 35 points, three off his season high, in Sunday’s 130-110 loss at Houston, and 34 in a 107-100 loss to the Boston Celtics on April 3.
The Lakers have lost their past six games, 10 of their past 11 and 14 of their past 16. They are 16-65 and are guaranteed of having the worst record in their 68-season history.
Bryant officially became a Laker on July 1, 1996, when the team completed a previously agreed to trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who had chosen him five days earlier with the 13th choice in the NBA draft as part of the trade agreement with the Lakers.
Bryant played his entire career with the Lakers, helping them win five NBA championships, with him being chosen as the NBA Finals MVP for both of the past two championships.
Bryant’s 20 seasons played with one organization is an NBA record. He is among five players to play at least 20 seasons in the league, along with Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis, who all played 21, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played 20.
Bryant is the league’s third leading scorer all time with 33,583 points, behind only Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928). He’s also taken the third most shots all time, 26,150, again behind Abdul-Jabbar (28,307) and Malone (26,210).
Bryant was the league’s MVP in the 2007-2008 season, received All-NBA honors 15 times, including 11 first-team selections, and was chosen to play in the league’s All-Star Game 18 times.
Former Laker Earvin “Magic” Johnson posted a letter on his website, paying tribute to Bryant.
“Every night you played, I couldn’t wait to watch, knowing that I would witness an unbelievable shot or move that I had never seen on the court,” Johnson wrote. “I marveled at the skills and loved the energy you brought to the game wearing that purple and gold uniform. You never disappointed the city, Laker fans and basketball fans worldwide. All you cared about was winning games and championships and that’s why so many people love you.”
—City News Service