Fairy-tale swansong for 'best Laker ever' Bryant
LOS Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant delivered a Hollywood ending as the curtain came down on his glittering 20-year NBA career on Wednesday in a fairy-tale finale.
On a night of searing emotion at a packed Staples Center, the 37-year-old signed off with a mammoth 60 points, including a final burst of scoring to inspire a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz.
A galaxy of A-list celebrities - from Jack Nicholson to David Beckham - roared their approval from courtside as Bryant exited with a perfectly scripted finale.
"Man, I can't believe how fast 20 years went by, this is crazy," Bryant said after the victory in an address to the crowd.
"To be standing on centre court with you guys, my teammates behind me, appreciating all this, the journey we've been on.
"I grew up a die-hard Laker fan - I mean a die-hard Laker fan - so to be drafted and traded here and spend 20 years here, you can't write something better than this."
A sell-out crowd of 19,060 fans had packed into the Staples Center to watch Bryant lace up for the 1,566th and last time.
Tickets were the most expensive in basketball history, according to online exchange StubHub.com, which sold one pair of tickets for a staggering US$27,500 (S$37,500) each.
Lakers legend Magic Johnson had acted as master of ceremonies for a lengthy pre-game tribute that featured video messages from some of the NBA's most recognisable figures.
"He's not only a great and unbelievable sports icon but he's (also) already the greatest to wear the purple and gold," said Johnson.
Bryant's tribute video was a virtual who's who of the NBA, with Shaquille O'Neal, Lamar Odom, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and several other coaches and players featured.
"It was fun playing with you, it was fun playing against you," O'Neal said.
"Best Laker ever."
Excitement for Bryant's farewell game had built throughout the day, with the streets surrounding the Staples Center transformed into a sea of purple and gold as thousands of fans thronged the area.
As day gave way to dusk, Los Angeles City Hall was lit up in the Lakers' iconic colours of purple and gold.
Announcing the gesture earlier in the day, Los Angeles City Council president Herb Wesson declared the move a fitting tribute to the retiring star.
"The City of Angels owes Kobe Bryant a debt of gratitude for sharing with us 20 remarkable years of electrifying dedication and commitment to the city, our fans and communities," he said.
"His work ethic, hustle and quest for championships ensures his place in the history books - there will never be another Kobe Bryant."