LOS ANGELES -- Drenched in sweat, Kobe Bryant wrapped his arms around his head coach and teammates, one by one, then the dozens of former teammates that gathered nearby.
The Los Angeles Lakers icon took the microphone after a masterpiece performance in his final NBA game, and, standing at midcourt, Bryant addressed a sold-out Staples Center crowd that was on its feet.
“You know, I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by. This is crazy. This is absolutely crazy.”
Bryant gave the fans quite a show for his curtain call. He scored his most points since Feb. 2, 2009, when he scored 61 points against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
It was the sixth time the five-time champion has scored 60 or more points in an NBA game, this time setting a career-high for field-goal attempts, surpassing his previous high of 47 in a 2002 overtime loss to the Celtics in Boston.
He scored 15 of his team’s final 17 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 31.6 seconds left. And with 14 seconds left, like Michael Jordan, Bryant's final two career points came at the free throw line.
At the end of a memorable night filled with video tributes, endless cheers and standing ovations, Bryant told the fans that he appreciated how they stuck by him through ups and downs in his career. He told them how much it meant to only play for the Lakers, the team he loved ever since childhood.
“To be drafted and then traded to this organization and then to spend 20 years here, you can’t write something better than this,” Bryant said. “All I can do here is thank you guys. This has been absolutely beautiful. I can’t believe this comes to an end.”
“No words can describe how I feel about you guys. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. God, I love you guys.”
Bryant thanked his wife and two daughters before turning back to the crowd.
“What can I say?” Bryant said with a huge smile. “Mamba out.”