OKLAHOMA CITY -- After 20 seasons and 1,565 total games, Kobe Bryant stands just 48 minutes away from retirement. The Los Angeles Lakers icon will close out his storied career Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, and the 37-year-old will play in that finale, a rather monumental achievement considering his previous three seasons were all cut short by injury.
"I feel really excited and very happy and I'm looking forward to lacing them up one more time," Bryant said Monday after his team's 112-79 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the 677th and final road game of his career.
In his 65th game of the season, during which Bryant has missed many games because of injury or just to rest, Bryant scored 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting in 19 minutes against the Thunder. He shot 3-of-9 from 3-point range and didn't check in late despite the crowd chanting his name.
"I couldn't move, man," Bryant said with a laugh. "I played the first quarter and I tried to give it all I had, and then sitting down in the second quarter, I tried to loosen up in the locker room coming out for the second half, but I couldn't move well at all. That and the fact that we were losing by 40. I would've [loved] to play against [Kevin Durant] and chase Russell [Westbrook] around a little bit more, but I'm still appreciative of the fans' reaction."
The Lakers' goal all season has been to manage Bryant's minutes and health so that he can play in his final game. Now, they've reached that point.
"It's going to be bananas Wednesday night just getting to the stadium and the festivities in there and the game going on and all that," Lakers head coach Byron Scott said after his team fell to 16-65. "When the game is over it's going to be crazy to get out of Staples Center. There's going to be tons of people in the stands and they're going to be on the streets. The ones that couldn't get into the game will be on the streets hoping to get a glimpse of Kobe coming out. I think it's going to be crazy. But again, we have a chance to celebrate one of the best players that ever played the game this season."
Scott said he plans to stick to the same routine for Bryant's final game.
"Now throughout the day will I be thinking every hour that goes by that we're getting closer to the finale for this man's career? Yeah," Scott said. "But you still go through your normal routine and try to get to the stadium at the same times and things like that. But I know before they even tip up and before the game, him and I will meet briefly and probably look at each other and give each other a big hug and say, 'This is it.' Hopefully we'll end it out hopefully the right way."
Scott said he and Bryant have decided Bryant will play 10 to 12 minutes in the opening quarter, see how Bryant feels and then proceed from there. Scott has joked that he might let Bryant play all 48 minutes Wednesday, but both have conceded that Bryant isn't physically able to do so.
For now, Bryant is just glad to be on the court after Achilles, knee and shoulder injuries ended each of his previous three seasons. In fact, Bryant said Monday that the greatest accomplishment of his career is the fact that he returned to action after each injury.
"It's tough to muster up the motivation to have to keep coming back from season-ending injuries, man," he said. "It's very, very tough."
Bryant added, "What I did was ask myself, 'Do I want to come back from this?' And if the answer is yes, then I focus on that being the end goal and then I focus on the day-to-day activities, and that's a very hard thing to do, because it's easy to look at the process, the length that it takes to recover, and you get very discouraged with that. The hard part is concentrating on what you're doing in that moment, and it takes a lot of concentration to be able to do that step by step. That's the key."
Scott said he's not sure what emotions will come over him Wednesday when his former teammate, Bryant, bids adieu to the game of basketball.
"I'm a man's man," Scott said. "I'm not going to be crying. ... I don't think. I'm going to have so many emotions that will go through my body and through my mind. Because of him and 20 years I've known him. I don't know what I'm going to do. I just know after the game, I'm going to sit at my locker for a while and reflect back on one of the greatest guys I've ever been around and one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around, as well."
As for Bryant, the Lakers icon said he's not sure what emotions to expect, either, in what will be a sold-out, star-studded event.
"So far, I've been pretty cool about everything," he said. "I've been very thankful about everything. I've been very happy about everything. It hasn't really hit me yet. We'll see if it does."