Fashionably late L.A. arrived early for Kobe’s farewell party

Watch George Lopez, David Beckham, Jeremy Piven, Arsenio Hall and others describe their emotions at Kobe Bryant’s final game.


The throng had grown to dizzying proportions by late afternoon, thousands upon thousands pressed shoulder-to-shoulder outside Staples Center. David Tsoy stood on tiptoes to look around.

“I didn’t expect so many people here,” he said. “They all came to say farewell to Kobe?”

The 24-year-old engineer may have been surprised, but he understood. A Lakers fan since childhood, he had flown from Hong Kong and paid $2,000 for a ticket to watch Kobe Bryant play one last time.


“Some people think that’s too expensive,” he said. “To me, I think they’re wrong.”

A sellout crowd — and many more who did not have seats in the arena — turned Wednesday into an unusual celebration, an evening marked by equal parts championship buzz and nostalgia.

People began showing up just after noon, making a day of it along Chick Hearn Court. Pebbles Chavez of Pico Rivera left work early — “They knew why” — to pick up her 7-year-old grandson, Cyris Govea.

They had been going to games together since he was a toddler, but she let him know this time was different.

“Grandma told me she’s going to cry,” he said.

Chavez nodded: “It’s overwhelming.”

Lines began forming at the entrances an hour before the doors were scheduled to open. Even season-ticket holders accustomed to showing up late wanted inside as soon as possible.

Dance music thumped from a sound system, the cacophony mixing with spontaneous chants of “Kobe, Kobe.” The only people who didn’t seem festive were scalpers, who stood on the periphery asking passersby: “Got any extras?”

Tickets had been going for five and six times regular prices on secondary market sites such as StubHub.

People who had paid thousands for otherwise ordinary seats did not seem eager to part with their spot in the arena.

“Nobody’s selling right now,” said a scalper who declined to give his name. “I’ve seen some fake ones, but that’s all.”

Down the block, Shaun Kimball was finishing up a weeklong sojourn.

Like many Lakers fans, he had felt conflicted in recent months, wanting to see as much of Bryant as possible, but knowing every minute his favorite player spent on the floor was a minute taken away from a developing younger player.

“I’m that guy who gets upset,” the San Diego man said. “It’s frustrating when your team gets blown out and Kobe scores seven points.”

But Kimball counts Bryant’s glory days among the happiest of his life. So he and his brother, Cameron, followed the team for the last six games, hop-scotching from New Orleans to Houston to Oklahoma City.

“If we have to give Kobe a year like this, I guess I’m OK with it,” he said. “And I have to be there.”

Fans soon pushed into Staples Center with a sense of urgency, many of them heading directly to their seats though tipoff was still 90 minutes away.

Nacho Gella had been through this once before — flying from Spain to see his idol in person. That was in February and Bryant sat out the game he attended.

“I was crying on the plane home,” the 39-year-old said. “My friend bought tickets for this one. We were sure he’d play this time.”

In the upper tier, high above the court, Rex Shinmon felt anxious for reasons that extended beyond basketball.

The 53-year-old Honolulu man had brought his girlfriend, Randi Shibuya, to Los Angeles, paying $500 each for nose-bleed seats. All day long, he had kept an engagement ring in his pocket.

Shinmon popped the question, right there in the aisle, during warmups. He figured she had to say yes.

It was that kind of night for Bryant’s farewell. An odd mix of anticipation and emotion.

“I don’t know what to be more excited about,” Shibuya said.

Shinmon pumped his fist, adding: “I knew Kobe would come through for me one last time.”

Follow David Wharton on Twitter: @LATimesWharton