Photo: NBAE. Online gallery.
Kobe Bryant saved a little bit in the tank for the final game of his 20-year Lakers career. He came out shooting Wednesday night and didn't let up until he had put up 60 points, the most by any NBA player this season — of any age — and the most ever by a player in his last game. The Lakers came from behind in the final minutes to defeat the Utah Jazz 101-96, with Bryant playing the entire second half and and taking most of the team's shots.
As the game ended, the floor of Staples Center filled with former Lakers, including Shaquille O'Neal, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Lamar Odom, lining up to hug Bryant. His wife Vanessa and two daughters were on the floor too. The crowd included Staples Center stalwarts such as Jack Nicholson and Frank Robinson, and later-day converts such as Jay Z and Snoop Dog. Magic Johnson paid tribute to Bryant before the game, and after the final buzzer among the Kobe huggers was LA billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.
Kobe addressed the audience for several minutes and said he had always been a "die-hard Lakers fan," and he told the fans he loved them and would miss them. "You'll always be in my heart, and I sincerely, sincerely appreciate it," he said from the floor, microphone in hand. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys." Before he dropped the mic, gently, he said "Mamba out."
So the worst season ever for the Lakers in Los Angeles &mndash; just 17 wins — ends on a dramatic high note. The Lakers outscored Utah 35-21 in the fourth quarter, and Kobe scored 50 points for the first time since 2009. He's the oldest player to get 50 in an NBA game, and improbably it was the fifth highest-scoring game of his career.
Bryant finishes as only the fifth player in NBA history to play 20 seasons, and the first of those to do it on one team. For the record, he played in 1,346 regular-season games and scored 33,643 points, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.
The lighting on City Hall was changed tonight to purple and gold in Bryant's honor.