You could see it early this morning as crowds of Lakers fans stood outside the Staples Center store, waiting for it to open so they could buy Kobe Bryant gear. You could see it since November, when teams and their fans began honoring the Lakers’ All-Star guard after he announced this would be his last season as an NBA player.
In Phoenix, Arizona, when the Lakers played the Suns, the fans showered Kobe Bryant with adulation and ovations. When the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Lakers on Tuesday, April 5, the tribute to Kobe Bryant was a show itself. Members of the Clippers paid their respects to the man who inspired them before they entered the NBA.
The Lakers and Clippers have shared Staples Center for more than 16 years and for most of that time the Lakers have been the dominate team in Los Angeles. They won five NBA championships since moving into Staples Center. The Clippers, for many of those years, were looking up from the bottom of the NBA standings, but for the past five years the Clippers have been playoff contenders.
Tonight though, it isn’t the Clippers that are drawing record crowds to the Staples Center store and into Staples Center tonight. It’s the Utah Jazz facing the Lakers. The team has approved nearly 400 press credentials for this game, rejecting nearly twice that number. The game is sold out, but if you’re desperate and have money to burn, be willing to spend at least $1,300 for a seat in the nosebleeds or $17,000 if you want to sit down on the floor behind the Lakers bench. Next to — or behind — longtime Lakers fan Jack Nicholson.
Tonight the Golden State Warriors — the best team in the NBA this season — are hosting the Memphis Grizzlies and the Warriors are expected to win, breaking the Chicago Bulls’ season record of 72-10. Golden State could finish the season 73-9.
That will be a big game in Oakland tonight and there will be at least as many media credentials approved for that game as the one in Los Angeles. But which will be the bigger news? If the Warriors do win, breaking the record, it will be hard for any sports story to compete — except for Kobe Bryant’s final game as a Laker, his last game as an NBA player.
For 20 years Lakers fans have cheered Bryant, and basketball fans have cheered and booed him around the NBA. This year it has been all cheers and standing ovations: Toronto, New York, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, Oakland — everywhere Kobe Bryant has suited up and stepped on the hardwood floor, the crowds of basketball fans have paid tribute to Kobe Bryant.
For the past 20 years Los Angeles been treated to one of the greatest players in NBA history. There will be crowds of celebrities, former players, former teammates — people who have never been to an NBA game before — in Staples Center tonight.
Our reporter Claudia Gestro will be there and will be tweeting her Periscope clips from the game so we urge you to check her Twitter before, during and after the game.
Enjoy the game, enjoy Kobe Bryant as an L.A. Laker, one last time.
Claudia Gestro contributed to this article, including all photos and video.
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