LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Just a few hours after producing a Hollywood-style script to end his 20-year career in the NBA with an astonishing 60-point display, Kobe Bryant was preparing to head back to the gym to stay in tip-top shape.
Aged 37, the five-times NBA champion is renowned for his extraordinary work ethic and though his competitive days with the Los Angeles Lakers are over, he was determined to stick to much of the same gym routine he has followed with such discipline.
“I have to,” Bryant, still wearing his beloved No. 24 jersey, told a packed news conference at Staples Center after engineering an exciting, come-from-behind 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz on his much anticipated league farewell on Wednesday.
”That’s a slippery slope. I’ve done some research from players post-career, and it goes, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.’ Then all of a sudden it‘s, ‘Uh oh.’ The important thing is to get into a routine, to maintain discipline.
“I have been in a certain routine my entire career. The worst thing I can possibly do is not have one because then you wake up without a sense of purpose, a sense of direction. I have to find a routine, get into it and be comfortable with it.”
Bryant had a crystal-clear sense of purpose during his stellar career with the Lakers, lighting up the league with a stunning ability to close out games as he helped the Los Angeles franchise to seven NBA Finals and five titles.
Stunningly, that same closing ability was front and center for his league farewell as he almost single-handedly guided his team back from a 15-point deficit at halftime to a mind-boggling win over the Jazz as he poured in shots from everywhere.
“This is kind of crazy to me,” said the 18-times All-Star, who made 22 of 50 shots in 42 minutes to end his career with 33,643 career points, the third highest total ever in the NBA.
“It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way. I‘m still in shock about it.”
Bryant, watched at a sellout Staples Center by several of his former team mates including Shaquille O‘Neal, Lamar Odom, Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher, was highly amused that his longtime reputation of being a ball-hog was now forgotten.
”My team mates were just continuing to encourage me, continuing to say, ‘Dude, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot’,“ Bryant grinned. ”It’s like reverse.
“Go from being the villain to now being some type of a hero. And go from everybody saying, ‘Pass the ball!’ to saying, ‘Shoot the ball!'.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott, who won three NBA titles with the LA franchise as a player and has seen pretty much everything in the league over the years, was stunned by Bryant’s ending to his career.
“It was incredible,” said Scott. “I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Kind of put everybody on his back and carried them, carried the game and took it over. It’s mind boggling.”
Editing by Andrew Both