(Photo : Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)
The next time Lakers icon Kobe Bryant appears on the Staples Center court, it will be for the final game of his NBA career.
Has Bryant looked forward to that final game, April 13 against the Utah Jazz, and imagined what it will be like?
“I try not to do it too much,” Bryant said Wednesday night, “and just make yourself emotional.”
He added: “Just showing up and playing. Showing up and playing and hoping my body feels pretty damn good and I can get up and down the floor and run freely and play this game at the highest level of competition one more time.”
His preparation for that final game, he said, will remain the same.
“I won’t allow it to be any different,” said Bryant, 37, who is retiring after 20 NBA seasons. “One more time and go through same routine. Same group of people. One more time.”
Could Bryant imagine a perfect sort of ending? For some Lakers fans, a fitting ending would be Bryant hitting a game-winning shot. He wouldn’t mind that outcome, but he wishes for a different send-off.
“Yeah, win a championship,” he said, “[but] that s— ain’t happening, so there you go. That’s done. The dream’s done. Dream’s done. For me, it’s coming out and playing in front of the fans and competing hard and playing against Utah, and them not taking it easy at all. They beat us by like 40 the last few times we played them. So I expect them to come and try to do the same thing.
“To me, that is the greatest form of competition. That’s best last game you can have — a very competitive one, a physical one. That’s the way basketball should be. In terms of the end, I don’t know, man. I really don’t think about that that much; I just like the game itself.”
He’s not sure what his emotions will be that night.
“When the time comes, you never know,” Bryant said. “[I] might be sitting here with tears flowing out of my eyes. I doubt it, but it could happen. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Fans’ emotions were high during Wednesday’s penultimate home game, and Bryant could sense it. He checked out in the final minute of the 91-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers to a roaring standing ovation, with fans chanting his name as loudly and for as long as they have at any point this season.
“This is the next-to-last game ever in this building. It’s pretty crazy,” said Bryant, who scored a game-high 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting in nearly 28 minutes. “So I certainly can feel it. As soon as you run out at the start of the game, I could feel it.”
Added Bryant: “I can feel it, and it feels pretty damn awesome. Going through the years of losing and not leaving [the Lakers] makes it all worthwhile standing here and taking the good with the bad and the fans embracing that and understanding that we ride together. That’s a love that you can’t break.”