Leonard Thomas: Thanks for the ride, Kobe
Kobe's 20-year journey has been thrillingly dramatic, as they would say in Hollywood
The moment he appeared on basketball's biggest stage, Kobe drew a crowd.
When he made his NBA debut in 1996, coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers, aged 18 years and 72 days, and started for the first time at 18 years and 158 days, there were crowds to witness the moments of history. They will all be watching when he plays for the last time in the famous jersey this morning (Singapore time).
For an unprecedented 20 seasons, he has been glued to one franchise and grabbed so much attention because he played the game hard and we all appreciated it.
He stoked excitement because he displayed so much otherworldly talent and a fiery will to win and an unprecedented season-long tribute will reach a crescendo today.
Organisers of the 2008 Olympics were forced to shift a Roger Federer press conference to a mini-hall at the media centre because of the interest level and I witnessed how an army-sized turnout stood on chairs, tables and occupied any space possible to catch the tennis maestro.
Days later, I remember wondering how even more managed to force their way in when Kobe held court for Team USA.
When he started in Los Angeles, the Showtime era of Magic, Kareem and Worthy had officially ended five years earlier, but Kobe had a game that suggested the lowly Lakers were set to rebound and the fans flocked to watch the precocious teenager and Shaquille O'Neal begin work to lay waste to the rest of the NBA.
Brash, supremely confident and never one to back down, Kobe hardly generated love outside of Lakerland like Magic.
He was accused of rape when his star was on the rise, married Kobe insisted the sex was mutual and he didn't commit assault and the case collapsed when the woman refused to testify.
Kobe did settle a civil suit out of court and got back to basketball.
Soon after he joined the NBA, talk of his legendary work ethic that will forever be his hallmark started to make its rounds in rival locker rooms and training facilities around the league, and he relied on it to restore his powers.
Even owning superior gifts, Kobe worked like a demon because he wanted to win and face down the best.
He consistently drew crowds because win or lose, it made for dramatic viewing.
The NBA money men breathed a huge sigh of relief because they had a successor for Jordan, after all.
Kobe wanted to be like Mike and challenged him and many didn't think it right for an upstart to call out royalty. But basketball's GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) admired the fierce determination of the young Laker guard, and today, in the ultimate compliment, Jordan speaks of his deep respect for Bryant and says they have a similar game.
The youngest NBA All-Star in history when he was selected in 1997-98 aged 19 years 169 days, Kobe conducted a Nike clinic in 2009 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and drew a crowd of 8,000.
Even the best in the NBA miss more than they convert and when I asked him why he never hesitated to take the shot even after a string of failed attempts, Kobe simply said it was a lack of fear.
He has been daring for 20 seasons and we all lapped it up. I remember being in a crush at least 100-strong at the media session for the 2012 All-Star game in Orlando as what seemed like a planeload of America's sports hacks and visiting journalists waited for the Lakers star.
More than an hour later, we were all still there when they told us he was not coming and we cursed his name.
A few hours later, after the team workout, we all stood in a crush around him as he talked about returning from a lengthy injury.
He dunked, pumped faked, learnt the "shake and bake" from Olajuwon, mastered the mid-range jumper and became a lecturer of Phil Jackson's triangle offence.
Only Wilt Chamberlain's 100 was more than his single-game points haul of 81. The five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist had all the moves and was an 18-time All-Star.
Along with Jack, Mike, Shaq, Magic and so many more Hollywood A-listers and NBA greats, and 18,000 other adoring fans at the Staples Center, the world will watch as the curtain comes down on Kobe Bryant the Laker guard.
Who knew that so soon after Mike, we all would enjoy such a ride.
It is hard to be great for that long. He has been great for maybe 19 out of 20 years. To do it at that level for so many years, with guys coming after you, I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. He’s had a lot of injuries along the way, and he just came back stronger and stronger.
— Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade on Kobe Bryant
NBA championships, tied with Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs for the highest total among active players.
All-Star Game starts, the most in NBA history.
Became the first player age 37 or older to score at least 25 points in three straight games this season since Michael Jordan (aged 40) in 2003.
He has 24 career 50-point games, third most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (118) and Jordan (31) .