LOS ANGELES – The atmosphere at Staples Center Sunday night was unusual for a game between a team with 15 wins and another on the outskirts of the playoff picture. But Kobe Bryant’s days as an NBA player are quickly coming to an end and his impending retirement has created electric scenes throughout an otherwise lost season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
So the Easter Sunday crowd was raucous from the tip, roaring with each Bryant field goal and chanting his name when he was on the bench during the Wizards’ 101-88 victory. Bryant finished with 17 points on 6 of 15 shooting in just 23 minutes.
“He’s been great,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “He still can play. I don’t know why he’s retiring. I might ask him to come play for me.”
Wizards point guard John Wall often found himself defending Bryant and proved effective. After the game, Wall, who finished with 22 points and 13 assists, spoke with the 37-year-old Bryant.
“Just keep going. Just keep working,” Wall said, recalling what Bryant told him. “He likes the way I’ve been improving and working every year. Just keep grinding. He feels like I can be a great player. I just got to keep putting the work in and put even more work in to be better and just keep leading this team.”
Bryant scored nine points on three three-pointers in the first quarter, appearing on his way to posting a performance similar to the 31-point effort he had against the Wizards in at Verizon Center in early December. But Washington, desperate for victories, shut Bryant and his teammates down over the final 36 minutes.
Bryant finishes his career against Washington with averages of 25.5 points, 5.6 assists, and 5.1 rebounds in 32 games, the first of which came on Feb. 2, 1997 when the franchise was still known as the Bullets. Now Bryant has just nine games remaining in his basketball career, one that has left an impression on Wall.
“Just his work ethic. Determination as well,” Wall said. “How much grit and grind he put into this. He dedicated his whole life to the game of basketball for 20 years and look at what he got out of it. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game. All-time leading scorer for the Lakers. It’s an amazing honor to play against him and I got the opportunity to talk to him for a bit after the game. It’s something you cherish. It’s something you remember and I’m glad I had the opportunity to play. And I’m glad my mom was here to see it.”