TORONTO — Kobe Bryant came in from a side door, bundled up in his winter jacket and a wool cap, and saw a large group of reporters standing in front of a placard with his name on it. The Lakers legend already was late but was in no rush to stop.
“You guys got to wait,” he said. “At this age, I can’t hold my pee anymore.”
Bryant is only 37, but in NBA years that’s ancient, especially for a player finishing off his 20th and final season.
After his bathroom break, Bryant, an 18-time All-Star, returned and received gifts from media members from other countries. He answered almost as many questions in Spanish and Italian as he did in English and reflected on his Hall of Fame career.
Bryant will play in his final All-Star Game on Sunday night. This weekend has been one giant Bryant farewell. His good friend Carmelo Anthony called it “Kobe’s weekend” and “his last hurrah.” But Bryant is not melancholy at all about saying goodbye.
“I feel great about it,” he said. “This is pretty cool. I’m looking around the room and I’m seeing guys that I’m playing with, guys that are tearing the league up that were like 4 at my first All-Star Game. It’s true.
“How many players can actually say they’ve played 20 years and actually seen the game go through three, four generations? It’s not sad at all. I’m really happy to be here and see this.”
Still revered, Bryant was the leading vote-getter and will start in the game. Many are predicting that he will earn an NBA-record fifth All-Star Game MVP award and that his Western Conference teammates will set him up to win it. But Bryant said he’s fine if he doesn’t play many minutes.
“I’ll be good with 10,” he said.
“I’m really just enjoying this whole thing. Being around these players and talking to them one more time, being out and enjoying that moment, the game. The competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something, prove something, that’s gone.”
Bryant was asked what he will do on his first day of retirement. He said, “I’ll probably wake up, have some coffee and go back to sleep. I’ll be OK.”
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, still is the ultimate competitor. But Father Time, injuries and the grind of all the seasons and playoff series have taken a toll.
He’s had major surgery on his shoulder, Achilles and knee during the past three seasons.
“I can’t believe I’m still playing,” Bryant said. “Seriously, I’ve had three major injuries and I always believed I could come back, but you never know.”
Because of injury, this is the 15th All-Star Game in which he will be participating, and the guys sharing the court with him are excited to be a part of it.
“It means a lot,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “We definitely want to send him off on a good note. The greats, you think they’re going to play forever. Father Time is always undefeated. We respect everything Kobe Bryant has meant to the NBA. He left his mark on the game.”
Bryant will leave with more than 33,000 points, two scoring titles, one league MVP and two Finals MVPs. He’s made All-NBA first team 11 times and All-Defense first team nine times. The Lakers likely will retire both jersey numbers he’s worn — 8 and 24 — and display a statue of Bryant outside the Staples Center.
That’s a fabulous career, but Bryant wishes he had more hardware. He still laments the two Finals losses against Detroit in 2004 and the Celtics in 2008.
“I wish I could have won the two that got away,” Bryant said. “Those are tangible things I could have adjusted or changed from a leadership perspective, from an executional perspective.”
Bryant then got very specific about what could have been done differently. His mind still is very sharp but his body is not what it used to be.
He’s averaging 16.9 points and shooting a career-low 34.9 percent from the field in his final season. He said the toughest part of the season has been “the body. The body. The body.”
“I do so much work to get ready,” Bryant said. “Some games it’s there. Some games it’s not. The hard part has been being able to accept that and doing it on a nightly basis.”