WASHINGTON • Kobe Bryant is not ready for retirement life just yet.
The 37-year-old managed to beat Father Time and the Washington Wizards with a vintage performance, as the Los Angeles Lakers forward scored a season-high 31 points in a 108-104 win.
Playing before a sell-out crowd of 20,356, including a large faction of Lakers fans cheering every time he touched the ball, he pushed aside season-long shooting struggles and turned back the clock.
The five-time National Basketball Association champion announced on Sunday that he would retire following his 20th season. Washington served as the second stop on his farewell tour after Tuesday's game in Philadelphia, where his hometown fans started what looks like a season-long love fest.
"I thought everyone hated me," Bryant cracked when asked about the fan support on the road.
Hours after a brief meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama, he scored 18 points in the first half and 12 in the fourth quarter for the Lakers (3-15), including the go-ahead jumper with 30.8 seconds left. "He decided to be the young Kobe tonight," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman.
For much of this season, it appeared Bryant's shooting touch already exited the stage. He entered his lone appearance in Washington shooting 30.1 per cent from the field. Displaying classic moves with pull-up and fade-away jumpers, he scored efficiently in the first half as Los Angeles built up a 19-point lead.
He still left enough energy for the fourth quarter despite playing on back-to-back nights. "I was a fan," Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell, 19, said of watching the veteran play.
He will not be the only one feeling Bryant's absence when he retires.
Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has spoken of his admiration for the man he got to work together with for a Turkish Airlines commercial in 2013.
"It's always sad to hear when a sportsman is retiring. But Kobe Bryant will always be in the history books as one of the greatest," the Barcelona football star wrote on his Facebook page. "It was he who helped me become interested in basketball. All the best in the next stage of your life, Kobe."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE