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Kobe Bryant soaks up warm farewell from frigid outpost

Kobe Bryant Plays His Final All-Star Game in Toronto


A frigid Sunday night in winter-locked Canada may be the perfect place for a hockey player to take a bow, but for Kobe Bryant the NBA's most northern outpost would seem an odd setting to wave farewell.

The NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, the first ever held outside the United States, will not represent Bryant's last goodbye - that will come on April 13 back home in sunny Los Angeles in the Lakers' regular season finale against the Utah Jazz.

But the Toronto All-Star stage will certainly provide the 37-year-old basketball icon, who announced in December that this his 20th NBA season would be his last, the chance to give his legion of fans one last global hug.

The game will be available in 215 countries and territories with access in 49 languages on their televisions, computers, mobile phones and tablets.

Reporters from across North America along with 336 international media outlets from 40 countries have made the trip to Toronto while 17 international television and radio networks including China, Japan and France will carry Sunday's showcase live.

And most of the attention will be focused on Bryant's All-Star farewell.

KOBE BRYANT THROUGH THE YEARS:

12 PHOTOS
Kobe Bryant's career
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Kobe Bryant soaks up warm farewell from frigid outpost
CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 8: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers soars for a dunk during the 1997 Nestle Crunch Slam Dunk Contest on February 8, 1997 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, UNITED STATES: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant(L) and Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan(R) talk during a free-throw attempt during the fourth quarter 17 December at the United Center in Chicago. Bryant, who is 19 and bypassed college basketball to play in the NBA, scored a team-high 33 points off the bench, and Jordan scored a team-high 36 points. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 104-83. AFP PHOTO VINCENT LAFORET (Photo credit should read VINCENT LAFORET/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - FEBRUARY 8: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks during the 1998 NBA All-Star Game played on February 8, 1998 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1998 NBAE (Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
03/02/98 - MCI Center - Lakers' Kobie Bryant(L) listens to teammate Shaquille O'Neal as they sit on the bench during game against the Wizards. - Photo By Rich Lipski TWP (Photo by Rich Lipski/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
USA - 1999: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a layup during a 1999 NBA game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1999 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 19: Shaquille O'Neal #34 and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers pose with Lakers legend Magic Johnson after winning the NBA Championship trophy after defeating the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the 2000 NBA Finals on June 19, 2000 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2000 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
28 Dec 2001: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers chilling out before their game against the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. DIGITAL IMAGE. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Licence Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 2001 NBAE. Mandatory Credit: Catherine Steenkeste/ NBAE/ Getty Images
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates victory following Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena on June 14, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. The Lakers won the National Basketball Association championships defeating Orlando 99-86 for their 15th title and first since 2002. Bryant had 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Lakers completed a four-games-to-one victory in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 27: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for the shot over Ben Wallace #3 of the Detroit Pistons during the game at Staples Center on February 27, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Pistons 95-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: 2003 NBAE. (Photo by: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO - MAY 7: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers answers questions from the press after Game two of the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at SBC Center on May 7, 2003 in San Antonio, Texas. The Spurs won 114-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Copyright 2003 NBAE (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant answers questions during a press conference held at the Lakers training facility in El Segundo, Calif.. Thursday, July 15, 2004. Bryant chose the Lakers over the Clippers, remaining with the team he joined in 1996 at age 18 and later helped win three NBA championships. (Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage)
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"It should be more of a celebration about what he's given to the game and all his accomplishments," said Chicago Bulls Spanish center Pau Gasol, a team mate of Bryant's for seven seasons in Los Angeles.

"That's why I wanted to be a part of it. It's going to be emotional for me to see him. I hope he enjoys it.

"It's always fun to see him and to share this moment with him, this last dance with him."

For a telling picture of the impact 18-time All-Star Bryant has had on the sport's global growth you only need a snapshot of Friday's media day where half of 150-plus media engulfing his podium were from China, Japan and other countries that had little or no interest in the NBA when Bryant broke into the league as a high school phenomenon in 1996.

This was a full blown Kobe love-in complete with giggling, gifts and questions cloaked in gushing praise.

A relaxed Bryant appeared eager to soak up every moment of his All-Star swan song, smiling and answering as many questions in Spanish and Italian as English.

Fiercely competitive, Bryant, who once scorched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points, admitted it is not in his nature to pull punches when on the court but added he was not looking to put an exclamation mark on his All-Star career, at peace with his decision to retire.

"I'm looking around the room and seeing guys that I'm playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game," said Bryant.

"How many players can say they've played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It's not sad at all.

"I'm really just enjoying this whole thing, being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment in the game and enjoying that moment."

Like any roller coaster, Bryant's career has been a ride with plenty of ups and downs.

There were sexual assault charges that were settled out of court, his friendship and feud with Shaquille O'Neal and injuries that interrupted the final years of his career.

But his body of work on the court, which includes five NBA championships, scoring titles and a league most valuable player award, has cemented his place among the pantheon of NBA greats.

"It's easier said than done, because I think we all have dreams," offered Bryant in a reflective moment. "But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles.

"I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities, things, whatever, you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line you lose that imagination.

"I think it's important that you never lose that.

"That's the most important thing. I never gave up my dream."

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