LOS ANGELES • Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant delivered a Hollywood ending as the curtain came down on his glittering 20-year National Basketball Association career on Wednesday in a blockbuster finale.
On a night of searing emotion at a packed Staples Centre, the 37-year-old signed off with 60 points, including a final burst of scoring to inspire a 101-96 comeback victory over the Utah Jazz.
A galaxy of A-list celebrities - from Jack Nicholson to David Beckham - roared their approval from courtside as Bryant exited with a perfectly scripted final act.
"Man, I can't believe how fast 20 years went by, this is crazy," Bryant said, before gold and purple confetti descended from the ceiling.
"What can I say? Mamba out."
A sell-out crowd of 19,060 fans watched Bryant lace up for the 1,566th and last time.
KOBE BRYANT'S CAREER
NBA Most Valuable Player in 2008
Twice named the NBA Finals MVP (2009 and 2010)
NBA titles won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010
Number of 60-point games
All-Star selections - the longest streak
Points per game career-high in 2005-06
Most points he scored in a game - against the Toronto Raptors in 2006
Points scored in the NBA. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone have scored more.
Although the Lakers finished with a 17-65 record - the worst for a franchise that has won 16 NBA championships - his league farewell sparked huge interest at the box office. Tickets for the game were the most expensive in basketball history, according to online exchange StubHub.com, which sold a pair of courtside seats for US$27,500 (S$37,476) each.
Lakers legend Magic Johnson was the master of ceremonies for a pre-game tribute that featured video messages from LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Stephen Curry.
"We are here to celebrate greatness for 20 years," Johnson told the crowd. "He's not only a great and unbelievable sports icon but he's already the greatest to wear the purple and gold."
The 18-time All-Star guard had long cemented his place among the pantheon of NBA greats with a career that includes five titles, the third-most points in league history and a league Most Valuable Player award in 2008.
A legend's perfect 60 for the final stage
•"The coolest thing is that my kids actually saw me play like I used to play. It was like, 'Whoa, Dad!' I said, 'Yeah, I used to do that.' They were like, 'Really?' I was like, 'Dude, YouTube it.' " - Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 37, on his final NBA outing. Daughters Natalia, 13, and Gianna, nine, witnessed his 60-point performance at Staples Centre.
•".@kobebryant scoring 60 points in his last game is the greatest final performance that I've ever seen in sports! Who would've thought that Kobe scoring 60pts in his last game would upstage the Warriors winning their 73rd game? Well it happened tonight!" - Lakers legend Magic Johnson
•"I challenged him to get 50 and (he) got 60."
- Former team-mate Shaquille O'Neal
But given one last chance to make history, Bryant attempted 50 shots on Wednesday - a career-high and the most taken by anyone in an NBA game in over 30 years - in notching the fifth-highest tally of his career.
He made 22 shots: three-pointers, driving lay-ups, and his signature fadeaway jumpers. He became the oldest player to score 50 points in an NBA game. No Hall of Famer reached 30 points in his final game.
"I go through 20 years of everybody screaming for me to pass the ball and the last night they're like 'don't pass it'," Bryant said.
Known for making plays down the stretch, he single-handedly outscored the Jazz in the fourth quarter 23-21 as the Lakers overcame a 14-point deficit in the final 10 minutes. He scored 15 of his team's final 17 points. His final field goal was a 20-foot jumper with 31.6 seconds left to give the Lakers the lead.
His final two points were sealed from the free throw line with 14 seconds remaining. He finished with an assist before checking out to an ovation and chants of "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe" with 4.1 seconds left.
"Tonight was trying to go out, playing hard and putting on a show as much as I possibly could," said Bryant, who had four assists and four rebounds. "It felt good to be able to do that one last time."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS