LOS ANGELES, April 13 (UPI) — Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant plays his final NBA game Wednesday, and tributes are pouring in for a player also known as “The Black Mamba.”
Brands, teams and the NBA itself devoted significant attention to Bryant’s retirement, but so did fans and most of all his former rivals and teammates.
Former Lakers teammate Caron Butler wrote an ode to Bryant for the Washington Post, thanking him for embodying “everything that a professional athlete’s supposed to embody, and that helped me so much throughout my career.” He also wrote that Bryant’s departure will leave a “huge void.”
On the corporate side, Bryant sponsor Nike launched a promotion using the hashtag #MambaDay in honor of his final game.
Fans either loved or hated Bryant, and Nike made light of that with a video of the basketball star stopping mid-game to conduct his haters – famous and anonymous – in a rousing song. Even Phil Jackson sings. The tweet says “Always love the hate.”
Always love the hate. #MambaDayhttps://t.co/oqWHZi6Amv— Nike Basketball (@nikebasketball) April 13, 2016
The NBA posted a series of tweets under the hashtag #ThankYouKobe, calling out his “crazy work ethic,” “The SLAM DUNKS” and “The Smile,” among others.
For The SLAM DUNKS… #ThankYouKobe pic.twitter.com/8Isrkl3MtB— NBA (@NBA) April 13, 2016
The NBA shared video of Bryant’s top 10 plays:
20 Years. 10 Plays.#ThankYouKobe https://t.co/ELbk4AXNO7— Cavaliers (57-24) (@LeKingJames23) April 13, 2016
… as well as video showing all 81 points he scored against Toronto in 2006 (which ESPN dubbed “his Mona Lisa”):
When Kobe scored 81 on Toronto https://t.co/lft7EKhpxM— #MambaDay (@ovoshamar) April 13, 2016
Bryant’s 81-point game ranked second for most points ever scored in a game. Wilt Chamberlain holds the No. 1 spot (and Nos. 3, 5-7 and 10) with 100 points scored in 1962. Michael Jordan’s top-scoring game was 69 points against the Cavaliers in 1990.
The Lakers devoted numerous posts and reposts to the future hall of famer, tweeting “Today we say goodbye to a legend.”
THIS DAY IN KOBE HISTORY: April 132016: Today we say goodbye to a legend.#ThankYouKobehttps://t.co/EsNS7qNwC2— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 13, 2016
Perhaps most touching was a letter penned by former Lakers great Earvin Magic Johnson. He tweeted a link to it followed by another post where he said “I’ve enjoyed every minute of your career. #ThankYouKobe for all the fantastic memories!”
.@kobebryant I’ve enjoyed every minute of your career. #ThankYouKobe for all of the fantastic memories! #MambaDay pic.twitter.com/W6X0S9kdOu— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 13, 2016
Lakers teammate Pau Gasol, known early on as the “White Swan” to Bryant’s “Black Swan,” tweeted “Kobe meant a lot of different things to me over the years. Here’s my last word.” His tweet included his picture with the word “Hermano” over it – “brother” in Spanish.
Kobe meant a lot of different things to me over the years. Here’s my last word. #MambaDay pic.twitter.com/rE4m3Uyp43— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) April 13, 2016
Tiger Woods got into the act with his tweet and selfie emblazoned with the #MambaDay hashtag and the 4/13 date. “As a diehard @Lakers fan, thank you @kobebryant for all the memories and of course the 5 titles!”
As a diehard @Lakers fan, thank you @kobebryant for all the memories and of course the 5 titles! pic.twitter.com/XsNb8Giy7Q— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 12, 2016
Those titles gave Bryant another nickname: “Lord of the Rings.”
Rapper Kendrick Lamar teamed up with ESPN for a loving video tribute to Bryant, called “Kobe Bryant’s Fade to Black” set to Lamar’s “Unititled 07.”
Respect for Bryant started from day one in the NBA with predictions that he would be “the next Michael Jordan,” which launched two decades of arguments that won’t end with his retirement. Here are video highlights from his first NBA game at age 19, where actor Jack Nicholson – a huge Lakers fan – interrupted a live pre-game interview to ask for an autograph. He got it.
We flash back to @kobebryant’s FIRST NBA All-Star Game… 1998 as a 19-year old at MSG! #ThankYouKobe https://t.co/61i0r9XtSQ— 2016 NBA All-Star (@NBAAllStar) April 13, 2016