TORONTO -- "Kobe! Kobe! We're from Toronto. We just wanted to give you a retirement gift," the local radio station reporter said, pushing a cream-colored envelope and shimmering red gift bag replete with a white bow across the table.
"Dear Kobe," the envelope read in cursive, and inside the bag: a bottle of Brio, a sweet Italian soda produced in Canada.
"Ah, thanks, man," Kobe Bryant said, nodding before taking both gifts and carefully placing them beside his feet.
By that point Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers icon was nearly one minute into a 25-minute media session leading up to his final All-Star Game on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. Four questions had been lobbed his way; nearly 70 more would follow, including if Bryant would miss talking to the media after he bids the NBA adieu.
"I'm not going to lie to you," he said with a smile, "and say 'yes.' "
But that early gesture epitomized the circus that has surrounded the 18-time All-Star throughout his season-long farewell tour, and it set the tone for the array of odd questions and unusual gifts to come, including a portrait depicting a samurai sword-wielding Bryant standing on the Lakers half-court logo in a purple kimono.
As usual this season, Bryant's responses were thoughtful, with an occasional dose of humor mixed in, such as when he was asked what it takes to secure entrance into the "vino club," a reference to Bryant's sobriquet (vino) that he has aged well.
"Well, to be old in age and young in spirit, how about that?" Bryant asked.
With a laugh, he then added, "You like the connection I made to wine with 'spirit'? Did you catch that?"
Of Sunday's game, Bryant, who will start, said he has "zero" inclination to win his fifth All-Star MVP award. He said he doesn't expect to play many minutes, either.
"I'll be good with 10," he said, smiling.
He also said he isn't at all emotional that this will mark his final game in this setting.
"No, I'm happy," he said. "This is pretty cool. 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. It's true. I mean, 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 mean, I'm really happy and honored to be here and see this."
His answer reflected the nostalgic attitude Bryant has conveyed since announcing his retirement, which he did shortly after the season began, even though he had previously stated that he wasn't sure if this was going to be his last go-around.
"I knew what I was going to do, so why wait?" Bryant said. "I'm not going to hold [Lakers'] management hostage either, because they need to start thinking about what it is they want to do [after I'm gone]. And going through this entire season not knowing, that's not fair. So if you know, let the world know and let them know."
Looking back, was there anything in his career that he wishes he could have done?
"I wish I could've won the two that got away, damn it," Bryant said, speaking of Finals losses to Detroit in 2004 and Boston in 2008. "Because those are tangible things that I felt I could've adjusted or changed from a leadership perspective, from an executional perspective. Those are the things that sit with me still, but I also learned a lot from them."
Just the same, is there anything that Bryant can't believe he has achieved?
"Yeah, I can't believe I'm still playing," he said. "Seriously. I've had three major injuries. I always believed I could come back, but you never know. I'm happy that I've been able to."
"There's no secret formula. The more you play the better you get. I used to just play in the driveway, play in the playground, dream of all of these things happening. And the more that you play, the better you get."Kobe Bryant, on the key to hoop success
He also said he never envisioned himself being an "elder statesman" of the league.
"God, as a younger player, I couldn't even see the next day," he said. "No, when you're young, you never think you'll get old. You're always just moment to moment. You think it's never going to end, the body is never going to hurt, never going to give out."
When did he reconcile with that fact?
"When I became old as hell," he said. "Time has a funny way of doing that."
At this stage, Bryant's body fails him constantly, so it wasn't surprising to hear the 37-year-old say that the greatest challenge of his final season is "The body. The body. The body. The body."
He added, "I do so much work to get ready and there's certain games where it's there, some games where it's not. The hard part is being able to accept that and deal with it on a nightly basis."
Bryant also answered a string of questions about Greece and a past vacation there. He spoke in Spanish and Italian, and one reporter taught him to say "thank you" in Arabic. He mentioned possible future trips to the Philippines and Japan, and recounted meeting soccer superstar Lionel Messi when Messi was 17. Bryant discussed basketball in Germany and offered advice to those who play in the Middle East.
"Play," Bryant said. "There's no secret formula. The more you play, the better you get. I used to just play in the driveway, play in the playground, dream of all of these things happening. And the more that you play, the better you get."
He recalled past All-Star Games and predicted the winner of this year's 3-point contest.
"Is anybody here not betting on Steph Curry?" Bryant asked with a laugh. "That's the smart bet, right? If you're investing, some people can do unconventional things or whatever, but how do you not bet on this guy?"
Bryant called Toronto "really, really cold" and, upon request, named three Canadians not named Drake, the famous rapper and Toronto native.
"[Wayne] Gretzky and [Steve] Nash and [Andrew] Wiggins," Bryant said. "I'll throw Rachel McAdams in there, how about that?"
"Oh, in Chicago, absolutely," Bryant said with a straight face.
Nearly 55 questions in, Bryant was asked if he could say something in Spanish.
"You must have just gotten here," Bryant said with a laugh, "because I've been speaking in Spanish for the last 20 minutes."
Regarding his role in his company, Kobe Inc., Bryant said, "I love being creative. Absolutely love it. I love formatting stories. I love thinking big concepts of stories. I think storytelling is the seed of everything, whether it's information or inspiration."
Bryant also looked ahead to his first day of retirement after 20 seasons in the NBA.
"I'll probably wake up and have some coffee," he said, "and go back to sleep."