Truly a once-in-a-generation talent  
The author Homer Sayson with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.

CHICAGO — When Kobe Bryant's No.8 and No. 24 jerseys is retired during halftime of the Los Angeles Lakers versus Golden State Warriors tiff on Monday at Staples Center (Tuesday, Manila time), the capacity crowd of 18,997 will pay an average of $1,477 (around P74,000) for their tickets.

It will be the second most expensive regular season game in NBA history, next only to Kobe's farewell game against the Utah Jazz last April 14, 2016 when the cheapest ticket sold for $729 at stubhub.com while the most expensive courtside seat went for a whopping $27,500.

In that goodbye performance in which Kobe ended his 20-year career by scoring 60 points, the Staples Center sold $1.2 million worth of Kobe merchandise, a single-day sales record for any arena in the world, easily breaking the previous mark of $1 million set by Led Zeppelin in a December 10, 2007 concert at the O2 Arena in London.

According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, among the items diehard Lakers fans bought during Kobe's final game included snake and lamb skin hats priced at $38,024 each and cashmere hats decorated with five diamonds and priced at $24,008 apiece. At a cost of $5,824 each, 21 leather jackets adorned with Swarovski crystals were also sold.

The Staples Center is the battleground of Kobe's several greatest feats, making it a fitting resting place for the iconic jersey numbers that have become so much a part of Laker lore since.

On December 20, 2015, Kobe lit up the Staples Center like a Christmas tree, outscoring the entire Dallas Mavericks team 62-61 through three quarters en route to a 112-90 Lakers win. A month later on January 22, 2006, Kobe had 81 points in LA's 122-104 thrashing of the Toronto Raptors.

It was also in the same building where Kobe and the Lakers clinched their back-to-back titles, taking Game Seven of the NBA Finals by outasting the Boston Celtics 93-89. Bryant's shooting went cold as a woman's heart in that thrilling Game 7, swishing just- 6-of-24 field goals, but the Black Mama willed his team to triumph with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

It turned out to be his last meaningful conquest.

The ensuing seasons saw Kobe struggle with injuries, forcing him to miss 139 games in his last three seasons. With the same grit and moxie that has defined his impeccable career, Bryant soldiered through a separated shoulder and a left knee fracture. He also had a bad back after carrying the Lakers through so many lean seasons. But when he tore his Achilles in 2013, it was the beginning of the end.

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All told, Kobe finished his career with 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists.

According to the Los Angeles Times, around 400 to 500 media credentials were issued by the NBA during Kobe's final game last April.

With the NBA's global popularity and the explosion of internet media, it is expected that even more reporters will converge at Staples Center for Monday’s ceremonies.

It's a fitting tribute to one of the best players to ever play in the NBA.

 

MAMBA MEMORIES. I first saw Kobe in the flesh in Philadelphia in 2001 when I covered the East swing of that year's NBA Finals.

Superstars like him are a tough get for an interview but I did get my chance on December 19, 2006 when the Lakers visited the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

As he was easing his way out of the visitors locker room following his mandated media availability session, I mustered enough courage to approach him and introduce myself. I was expecting to be accorded with nothing more than a perfunctory "hello" but much to my surprise, Kobe actually stopped and engaged me in a short conversation.

"What's up man," he told me. "I heard you have some really good guards out there."

My jaws locked, my knees buckled and my restless heart raced to a thousand beats. But it was one of the most memorable five minutes of my life. He gave me a bro hug and offered a shout-out to his Filipino fans. It was the beginning of a professional friendship that I will cherish until my last breath.

In the days leading to the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight last May 2015, I visited him at Staples Center. I chased him to Detroit in his last game at the Palace of Auburn Hills in December 6, 2015 and we chatted for a few minutes during in his final stop at the United Center last February 21, 2016.

I still look forward to seeing him somewhere down the road but I will miss his on-court exploits. Kobe Bryant truly was a once in a generation talent.

 

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