But on that night, with his family and a glittering array of celebrities in the stands at the Staples Center, Bryant resurrected the Mamba Mentality one last time.
His performance represented the most points ever by a player of that age, 37, and it left some fans wondering if he had enough left in the tank to return for one more season. But Kobe made it clear he was serious about retirement and ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
"The perfect ending would have been a championship," Bryant said after that game. "But tonight was (me) trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time."
It was also clear that his teammates were doing all they could to make his last game a memorable one, passing him the ball and encouraging him to shoot time after time. He took 50 shots, setting an NBA game record.
That was an irony he enjoyed quite a bit.
"The thing that had me cracking up all night long is, I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball," Bryant said with a grin. "And then the last night, they're like, 'Don't pass it!'"
His final game, a victory over the Utah Jazz, was his 1,346th of the regular season and he finished with 33,643 career points. At that time, that left him as the third-highest scorer in NBA history, passed on the list only this week by LeBron James.
Bryant played 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, won five championships and was selected to the All-Star team 18 times.
The event was preceded by tributes throughout the day including a pregame honor led by Magic Johnson, who called him "the biggest and greatest celebrity we've had in this town for 20 years" and "the greatest to wear the purple and gold."
"I think the most important part is that we all stayed together throughout," Bryant said. "You'll always be in my heart, and I sincerely, sincerely appreciate it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys."