'I can't believe how fast 20 years went by' - Kobe Bryant nets 60-point haul in farewell game
Published 14/04/2016 | 07:50
Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game of basketball as the Los Angeles Lakers produced a stunning comeback to beat the Utah Jazz.
The five-time NBA champion thrilled a packed Staples Center in his retirement game with his sixth 60-point haul of his career - only the great Wilt Chamberlain has more.
The 37-year-old announced in November the current campaign would be his last, leading to a 'farewell tour' which saw the 18-time NBA All-Star honoured in various arenas.
But the biggest celebration was saved for in front of the Lakers' home crowd as he called time on a 20-year career in stunning fashion.
Bryant had the fans on their feet early on, scoring a couple of three-pointers as he posted 22 of the Lakers' 42 first-half points.
But more was to come in the second half as Bryant hauled the Lakers from behind to snatch a 101-96 victory at the end.
Bryant addressed the crowd afterwards and said: "I grew up a die-hard Laker fan - die-hard - so to be drafted and traded to this organisation and spend 20 years here, you can't write something like that."
Bryant, nicknamed "The Black Mamba", was all smiles as he spoke to the crowd.
"I can't believe how fast 20 years went by, this is crazy," he said.
"To be standing here centre court with you guys, my team-mates behind me, we've been through our ups and we've been through our downs and stayed together throughout.
"I'm more proud, not about the championships but about the down years because we didn't run, we played through all that stuff, we got our championships and we did it the right way.
"What's funny is the fact I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball, then the last night they're like 'don't pass it!'
"What can I say? Mamba out!"
Reflecting on his remarkable final game, he told ESPN: "All night long my team-mates were just continuing to feed me the ball, I just had to take the challenge.
"I tried to not watch the news, to just stay in the present because I didn't want to come out here and completely stink it up - which I did for the first five minutes!
"I was just like, 'okay, I've got to settle down'. Defensively I got some plays - I got some steals, I got a block - and that kind of got me into the game a little bit."
Bryant retires third on the all-time NBA points-scoring list, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, and third behind Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in 50-point games after recording his 25th.
His 81-point haul against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 was bettered only by Chamberlain's 100 for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in 1962.
Bryant earned a record 18 consecutive all-star game selections - only Abdul-Jabbar, with 19, has more overall.
He won five NBA championships and was named league MVP in 2008, the same year he won the first of his two Olympic gold medals with the United States.
He added: "To carry on the legacy and tradition of all the great Lakers that came before... it's unfathomable, I can't express what a dream this is.
"I gave everything I could to the game, that's why I'm so comfortable walking away. I bared my soul to this game, I left it all here.
"When I go to sleep tonight, going to thank God for this beautiful opportunity, continue to thank my family, spend as much time as I can with them and just enjoy the future."