While Kobe Bryant warmed up before the Lakers’ game against the Indiana Pacers Sunday night, the fans inside Staples Center stood and took pictures and videos of the NBA superstar who had announced a few hours earlier that this will be his final season.
Bryant was given a standing ovation when he was introduced as the final Lakers starter, and fans took more pictures and videos from smart phones, all of them aware that the 20-year veteran had written a poem posted on The Players’ Tribune Sunday saying that “this season is all I have left to give.”
When Bryant made one of his few field goals, in the second quarter, fans rose as one and cheered the 37-year-old who has played his entire career with the Lakers. It was as if they were showing him appreciation for the five championships he brought the Lakers.
They let out their loudest cheers when Bryant drilled a three-pointer to pull the Lakers to within 104-103 with 12 seconds left, drawing chants of “Ko-be…Ko-be…Ko-be.”
But he missed a game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds left.
With Bryant’s family – wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia and Gianna – sitting courtside, he shot just four-for-20 from the field and had 13 points.
There was a moment in the third quarter when Bryant was about to inbound the basketball. But before he did, he bounced the ball to his daughters, who threw it back to their dad, all of them smiling.
When Bryant checked out with 7:42 left, he slapped hands with Reggie Miller, the NBA Hall of Famer who is an analyst for TNT. Miller was sitting courtside near the Lakers’ bench.
It was that kind of night for Bryant, drawing all sorts of fans who wanted to see him play.
Gonzalez said he has been a “huge” Lakers fan since he was six years old. He was clutching the poem that Bryant had written announcing his retirement -- each fan received a hard copy upon entering Staples Center. Gonzalez said he planned to “frame it and save it.”
Lakers Coach Byron Scott said he was “sad” when Bryant told him the retirement news Saturday night when the team was in Portland. .
Scott was Bryant’s teammate and mentor when he was an 18-year-old rookie.
“As I told him, he kind of shocked me when he told me,” Scott said before Sunday’s game. “He’s somebody who I truly care about, have a lot of respect for. It’s always hard when greatness like Kobe just decides to hang it up.”
Bryant said earlier this season he had no interest in a formal farewell tour. But the appreciation for him was evident when the Lakers were in Brooklyn and New York for games earlier this month, with fans from both teams showering him with love and some wearing his No. 24 Lakers jersey.
Lakers star forward Kobe Bryant waves to fans during warmups before a game against the Pacers.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant works up a sweat during pregame warmups agains the Indiana Pacers Sunday night.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Metta World Peace battles Pacers center Jordan Hill under the basket during the first half.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant announced his decision to retire after the season on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant screams out for a foul as he misses a jump shot over Pacers forward Paul George during first half action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant catches his breath during a break in the action against the Pacers.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant stands for the national anthem before a game against the Pacers.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives past Pacers forward Paul George during a game on Nov. 29.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant walks off the court with teammates during a timeout Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant rests on the bench before a game against the Pacers at Staples Center.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant is given a pat of support from teammate Jordan Clarkson after they teamed up on a play against the Pacers.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant before Sunday night’s game against the Pacers at Staples Center.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The good-byes from fans, players and teams probably will begin in earnest when the Lakers start an eight-game, 13-day trip in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Bryant grew up in the area, attending Lower Marion High.
“It’s home for him so I think they’ll show their appreciation,” Scott said. “The one thing about the Philly fans, just like New York fans, they are very knowledgeable about the game.”