Los Angeles, April 14
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, come-from-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.
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 teammates behind me,” he added. 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, No 1 for me.”
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 teammates and opponents such as LeBron James, Pau Gasol, Stephen Curry 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.