Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game Wednesday night, and photographer Andy Bernstein had exclusive access to Kobe as he put on his No. 24 Lakers jersey one final time. These are the images from that night, accompanied by words from Kobe and others’ post-game press conference.
Photographs by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way, it really is. Just the outpouring of support all night long — former teammates, fans and family. There were a lot of points there where I started to get emotional.
When we first ran out of the tunnel, I caught myself. I put on my jersey and I go, “O.K. This is the last time I’m going to put on a jersey.” Then, it’s the last time I’ll run out of the tunnel.
When those moments happen, you catch yourself getting really emotional.
Then you say, “O.K. You have to block that out because none of that makes a difference.” That’s when you go out there and completely lay an egg — completely mess up the situation. So you have to concentrate and focus.
You can be nostalgic all you want later.
When I pulled up to the arena — I’ve never seen it like that. I’ve never seen it like when I ran out on the court. All of those people, I couldn’t even see the court. All I saw was the tunnel on the way to the court. You can’t make this stuff up.
For some reason, it just didn’t surprise me that this is the way he would go out. When I talked about it last week — let him score 50 and play a lot of minutes and hit the game winner. I think for him, he probably had that in his mind as well. Just to go out there and execute it, be able to muster up enough strength. You just kind of sit there and think … he’s something else.
I think the fans, the reaction of the fans, the chanting, the support, the encouragement … I was really, really tired. I just had to continue to push. The fans’ support was tremendous. I think that is the thing that I’m going to remember.
Honestly, I learned the most from him during this game. His willpower, how many minutes he played — and he played them like he was fresh. He didn’t get tired. His willpower when to go out, I don’t think losing was an option. It looked like he was going for a 100-point victory. Just his willpower, that is something that I can really take from.