<
>

Lakers hosting crush of U.S., global media for Kobe Bryant finale

play
Kobe looking forward to lacing them up one more time (1:00)

Kobe Bryant says he's very appreciative for the warm reception he received from fans in Oklahoma City and is excited to play in his final game on Wednesday. (1:00)

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant's career finale Wednesday at Staples Center, where the Los Angeles Lakers will face the Utah Jazz before a sold-out crowd, will be one of the most heavily covered regular-season games in recent NBA history.

In fact, by Tuesday afternoon, between 400 and 500 media members were issued credentials, said Lakers' longtime publicist John Black, who called those figures "completely unprecedented" for a regular-season game during his 26-year tenure with the team. That group includes about 60 international media members, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Black said such a media onslaught is comparable to one for a conference final game.

The Lakers and the NBA had declined more than 200 credential requests by Tuesday afternoon, Black said, though he added that requests were still pouring in for the game, the last of Bryant's 20-season NBA career.

For a regular-season game at Staples Center, the Lakers can at most accommodate between 225 and 250 media members, Black said, meaning that many will have to cover Wednesday's game from the arena's press room.

Those media members will represent 15 foreign countries: Brazil, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, China, Taiwan, France, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Germany, England, Japan and Mexico.

"For a regular-season game, that's astronomical," Frank said, "and it could have been more, but we had obvious space limitations."

For comparison, Frank said for an average regular-season game, five or six international media members might be credentialed, and in Los Angeles that figure is routinely 10 to 12.

Even still, Frank said the league was only offering credentials to between 15 and 25 international media members per game during the height of "Linsanity" in February 2012, when then-New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin's dynamic play turned him into a global sensation overnight.

Perhaps one of the most apt comparisons to the media crush for Bryant's final game came on March 19, 1995, when Michael Jordan returned from retirement to face the Indiana Pacers at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.

Jordan announced his decision to return to the NBA the day before via a fax. At the time, David Benner was in his first year as the Pacers' media relations director when he heard from a Bulls reporter that Jordan was returning.

"The game was at noon the next day and it was nationally televised," Benner recalled. "It was already sold out before it happened, and we were already filled with media before this happened. Next thing you know, instead of a game without Michael, it became an event."

Suddenly the number of credentialed media increased from 80 to about 300 in a span of 24 hours, but the Pacers were able to seat only 150 of them, Benner said, adding that they also had to turn down anywhere from 100 to 150 requests.

"All we could do at the time was say, 'Look, I can give you a credential, I can't promise you a seat,'" Benner said. "We didn't have the capability in 24 hours to just change like that. So we essentially just said, 'We'll give you a credential, and you'll likely cover the game in the press room, but you'll get in.'"

Benner calls that day his most hectic regular-season game in his 22 seasons in his role with the Pacers, as requests kept pouring in via fax and telephone.

But the Lakers' situation is different, if only because Bryant announced in late November that he would retire at the end of the season, giving the Lakers more time to prepare.

Still, the fact that it's a regular-season game limits the Lakers' ability to block off media seating because those sections are sold out to fans who already bought tickets, creating a logistical logjam in terms of seating media.

On top of that, Bryant has had as many as two personal camera crews documenting every game of his final season for a potential film, but he'll have as many as six crews shooting his final game.

As such, Black, who said he has been receiving 50 email requests every hour for days on end, has taken to calling the game a "zircus," meaning both a zoo and circus.

Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, will play the national anthem, and there will be a tribute video. About two dozen of Bryant's former teammates are also expected to attend, including Shaquille O'Neal, with whom Bryant won three championships.

The city of Los Angeles will take part in the celebration by renaming one of its downtown train stations in Bryant's honor Wednesday. The Pico Station on Metro's Blue and Expo rail lines will for a day become the Kobe Station.

The station is the Metro stop for Staples Center, located two blocks away. A Metro spokesman said workers will change the signs at the station to bear Kobe's name starting at 6 a.m.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.