After a glittering NBA career spanning two decades, Kobe Bryant stepped off court for the last time Wednesday night, waving goodbye to his millions of fans around the world.
The 37-year-old’s last appearance for the Lakers ended in a 101-96 win against the Utah Jazz, with the basketball legend netting 60 points.
A pre-match ceremony to mark the retirement of Lakers No. 24 featured another legend of the game – Magic Johnson. The basketball great spoke to the sell-out crowd in Los Angeles’ Staples Center:
“Excellence for 20 years. Kobe Bryant has never cheated the game. He has never cheated us as the fans. He’s played throughout injuries. He has played hurt. And we have five championship banners to show for it.”
“When you think about this town, for the last 20 years this man has been the biggest and greatest celebrity we’ve had,” Johnson told the crowd.
KOBE: 20 years on the court
Kobe, recognized as the top high school basketball player in the U.S., was drafted out of Lower Merion High School by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, but was later transferred to the Lakers, where he stayed throughout his career. He has since earned a reputation as an ambassador for basketball around the world.
His career has been littered with accomplishments, including two Olympic gold medals, five NBA championships with the Lakers, an NBA MVP and 18 NBA All-Star selections.
Kobe was the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. In January 2006, he further cemented his legendary status by hitting 81 points in one game against the Toronto Raptors, a score that still ranks as the second-highest in NBA history.
Kobe storm sweeps across the pacific
Support for Kobe has swept thousands of miles, across the Pacific Ocean.
Millions of Chinese basketball fans are paying tribute to his career and wishing him well in retirement. From sports websites, discussion forums to social media platforms, Chinese fans are recalling the very personal connection that they’ve enjoyed with him over the years.
Kobe is one of few international basketball stars to have captured the imagination of the public in China. Over the past decade, the star has also taken specific steps to help nurture young talent in the country and boost the Chinese market.
His visits to China have drawn hundreds of thousands of frenzied fans gathering in the hope of a glimpse of their favorite star.
Kobe has also started online stores in China. In summer 2015, it was reported that he was learning Chinese so that he could interact with customers who had left comments on his store, Kobe Inc., on the Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao.
Kobe has also signed a deal with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and web portal Sina, to promote the domestic release of his documentary, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.”
Assessing his visit to the country in August 2015, popular sports website Bleacher Report marveled: “Kobe Bryant in China is a traveling Beatles concert wrapped inside a Muhammad Ali title defense. He is a basketball Lollapalooza with a Tomorrow World on top. He is hardwood Tom Cruise.”
A first person poem closes an NBA career
Kobe announced last November that he would be retiring at the end of this current season.
In a first-person poem titled “Dear Basketball,” Kobe offered a touching farewell message:
“I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye… thank you for this incredible journey.”
“I grew up a die-hard Laker fan”, Kobe Bryant told the Los Angeles crowd after ending his final NBA game. “To be drafted and traded here and spend 20 years here, you can’t write something better than this.”
Story from the CCTV NEWS.