LOS ANGELES • The eyes of the basketball world will turn to California as the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season draws to a close, with Kobe Bryant preparing to bid farewell to the sport as the Golden State Warriors chase a place in history.
A perfectly scripted finale will see him play his 1,566th and final game, as the Lakers host the Utah Jazz at the Staples Centre for what is certain to be an emotionally charged occasion.
A sell-out 18,000-capacity crowd packed with celebrities will be on hand to salute the last game of the 37-year-old's two-decade career.
Around 30 of his former team-mates from different generations led by Shaquille O'Neal will be in attendance to honour the star while Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Flea will play the national anthem.
Bryant announced his retirement from basketball in November, and has spent a challenging 16-65 season, with the Lakers being feted by rival fans in different cities across the nation.
It remains to be seen how much game time Bryant will receive, although Lakers coach Byron Scott has indicated he will be given as much as possible before signing off. "I know the fans, they would love to see him out there for 48 minutes," Scott said.
Number of NBA games Kobe Bryant would have played after his final one against Utah Jazz today.
Bryant, who played only 19 minutes of the Lakers' rout by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, said he was looking forward to his farewell but hinted that the occasion may get to him.
"I've been very thankful about everything. I've been very happy about everything. It hasn't really hit me yet. We'll see if it does."
In an interview with USA Today on Tuesday, he said he was not sad about his looming retirement.
"I'm thankful," he told the daily. "I'm not sad at all. I left no stone unturned, I gave everything to the game for 20 years in the NBA and more before that. So I feel very thankful to be able to play this game this long."
Bryant will retire with five NBA titles, having secured his place not only among such Lakers icons as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jerry West but also in the pantheon of NBA greats presided over by Michael Jordan.
Tickets for Bryant's farewell are the hottest in basketball history, according to online exchange Stubhub.com, which listed exclusive courtside seats at an eye-popping US$17,000 (S$23,000).
Bryant's finale gets under way at the same time (10.30am in Singapore) that Golden State will set out to clinch a record-breaking 73rd regular-season victory, taking them past the mark of 72 set by the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls in the 1995-1996 campaign.
After stumbling last week with a home defeat by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors have gone on a formidable charge to the finish line, beating their closest Western Conference rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, home and away to equal the Bulls' 72-win season and give themselves a chance at basketball immortality.
Golden State star Stephen Curry said the Warriors are now determined to finish the job in Oakland against the Memphis Grizzlies by claiming win No. 73 - even if the priority remains a successful defence of their NBA crown.
"We are in the moment and enjoying the ride, but the goal is to win a championship," he said.
LA LAKERS V UTAH
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