NBA players turn into fans in hunt for Kobe's autographed shoes

Kobe Bryant signed shoes for LeBron James after the Lakers played the Cavs at the Q in February. Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood torched the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, scoring 30 points -- all in the first half -- as his team rolled to a 48-point win.

But when the lopsided beatdown ended, Hood joined dozens of others, including the governor of Utah, outside the Lakers' locker room at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

They were all waiting on Kobe Bryant.

Holding a pair of sneakers, Hood patiently waited while Bryant made the rounds, meeting with numerous friends, friends of friends, family members of those friends and numerous others, such as retired Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko.

Finally, after Bryant posed for countless pictures, signed endless autographs and shook more hands than a politician, it was Hood's turn to have a moment with the Lakers icon who's retiring this summer after 20 seasons in the NBA.

"Ooooooh boy!" Bryant shouted at Hood. "Cooking with gasoline tonight!"

The two embraced, and Bryant took out a marker and signed the sneakers Hood held, carrying on a popular postgame tradition at both home and road games during Bryant's farewell tour, where as soon as the fourth-quarter buzzer sounds, opposing players transform from professional athletes into giddy, autograph-seeking fans.

These players' ultimate goal? Coming away with sneakers signed by Bryant -- either a fresh pair, the ones he wore that night, or whatever's available.

It has become such a ritual, in fact, that Bryant estimates he has signed and given away at least 30 pairs of shoes to opposing players -- and even players from other professional sports -- this season.

In fact, on average Bryant brings about five pairs to each road game -- and as many as seven in at least one instance -- because he knows the demand is especially high.

So what are the requirements for receiving an autographed pair?

"Why? You want some?" Bryant joked when he was asked this week.

"Nah, generally guys that got the cojones to ask, I give it to them. I've got plenty of them back there, so I'm not going to run out, so it's all good."

Bryant often doesn't just sign his name. He'll add a message too.

To Draymond Green, Bryant wrote, "Make history!"

To Tony Allen, Bryant wrote, "The best defender I ever faced!"

To Kevin Durant, Bryant wrote, "Be the greatest."

Bryant has signed pairs for Paul George and LeBron James, for former teammates Trevor Ariza and Caron Butler, and for many other NBA players.

He even signed a pair for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who recently ventured into the visiting training room in Phoenix to meet with Bryant.

Bryant also gave the pair off his own two feet to some young fans seated near the bench late in a game in Denver. Bryant said he chose those fans because he gave them a question that they correctly guessed -- the name of his dog (Crucio).

But the circus truly begins right after the games end, when opposing players parade one at a time into the locker room or training room where Bryant is typically receiving some kind of treatment on his 37-year-old, oft-injured body.

Generally, many players are quick to post photos of their haul on social media after games. In other instances, players, such as Durant, act rather shy about it.

"Yeah, don't tell nobody though, man," Durant joked at the time, confirming that he received a signed pair from Bryant. "I don't want to be looked at as a softie."

Bryant, for one, doesn't mind all the company, knowing that many players have to wait him out after his postgame media availability, followed by meet-and-greets.

"It's great," Bryant said this week, "because they know. During competition in previous years, there's no time for that. Now, it's different. You get a chance to talk and catch up and give some advice and things like that."

Bryant's impact on opposing players can't be understated, as they regard him in almost mythical fashion and are openly discussing that topic during his final season.

"During competition in previous years, there's no time for that. Now, it's different. You get a chance to talk and catch up and give some advice and things like that." Kobe Bryant on his postgame chats with opposing players

When asked what it was like to face Bryant, Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay recently remarked, "I almost cried."

When asked a similar question Sunday, Washington Wizards guard John Wall replied, "I'm glad my mom was here to see it."

Similar comments have laced through the season, underscoring why so many players vie for a piece of signed memorabilia from Bryant after games.

And if they don't catch Bryant in the locker room or training room, many athletes simply stand in nearby hallways that swell with fans and others hoping for a photograph, autograph or even a few words with Bryant.

All in all, this postgame crush means that it takes Bryant, who is shepherded by at least one and sometimes three personal security guards on the road, quite a while before leaving the arena.

Sometimes, in fact, it feels as if it takes Bryant 10 minutes to simply move 10 feet because he stops every few inches or so to shake hands, sign autographs, share a few words and/or have his picture taken with a fan, who at times is an athlete.

Bryant recently recalled his first autographs -- Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Penny Hardaway and even future Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal.

"How funny is that, though? Shaq was really nice to me when I met him," Bryant said. "I remember I was like 15 years old. He was really, really nice to me. Penny, not so much. I kind of carried that with me for the rest of my career."

So Bryant makes time to sign everything. He knows what it's like to be in a fan's shoes -- and now he knows what it's like to give his own away, every single night.