To get in to his final NBA game, Kobe’s fans say buy-buy

To make ends meet, lifelong Lakers fan Lainey Mulligan has sold a basketball signed by Magic Johnson, a prized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar jersey and even her Kobe Bryant Nikes.

But the breathtaking price of a ticket for Bryant’s final game today has her considering selling the basketball keepsake with the most sentimental value.

It’s an official replica of the jersey Bryant wore when he played for Lower Merion High School in 1996. Mulligan, 25, bought it for $65, back when she was in eighth grade and Bryant was in his prime.

“I’ve had it so long, it’s kind of like my ‘Linus’ blanket, it’s gone to so many games with me,” she said.

“But a jersey versus being able to see him for the last time? That is a lot bigger deal, for sure.”

By midday Tuesday, the Westminster resident was offering two iPhones, a 32-inch flat-screen television and some True Religion jeans on Craigslist. If two of them sell, Mulligan figures she have cash to buy a nosebleed seat for $850, the cheapest ticket that brokers were selling 24 hours before the game.

Prices for Bryant’s last NBA game – up to $18,000 on Tuesday afternoon for courtside seats – are the highest for any regular season game that Barry Rudin of Barry’s Tickets has seen during his 33 years in the ticket business.

“It’s even bigger than (New York Yankee Derek) Jeter’s last game,” Rudin said.

The price to watch Bryant bow out is inching close to the priciest game Rudin’s ever seen, Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics that night, and the cheapest seat at Staples Center was $1,500.

Bryant announced on Nov. 29 that he’d be retiring at the end of this season, and within 10 minutes Barry’s Tickets had sold 150 seats. Some went for as little as $85 before the brokerage could bring prices up to what Rudin describes as market rate.

Rudin doesn’t expect prices to drop today. He and other brokers are running out of tickets, he said, because sellers would rather attend the game than let anything go for less than a super-high markup.

Carlos Gavia, 33, of Orange and his girlfriend, Jessica El Massry, 34, of Westminster, were among the fans who bought tickets on Nov. 29.

“I actually saw the prices changing as I was searching. I felt a little bit uneasy about things, about the money,” Gavia said, explaining that they were – and still are – planning their wedding.

“But my girlfriend said, ‘Just go for it, what the hell.’ She gave me the courage to go and just bite the bullet on that one.”

Their two tickets in Row 1, way up in Section 313, cost them $1,063 on Vivid Seats.

“It wasn’t anything like, ‘Oh my God, what did we do.’ It’s more like, ‘We can’t wait for the game,’” El Massry said.

Some sellers, however, do have regrets.

Joe Kristy, 61, of Corona, who has held Lakers season tickets for a decade, sold a pair of today’s game seats in Section 331 for $125 each, two weeks before the Nov. 29 announcement. A couple of months ago, he sold another pair of nosebleed seats for today’s game for $725 a pop.

At the time, he thought he could buy other tickets for less. Turns out he can’t.

“Ticket prices have ramped up,” Kristy said. “So I’ll watch on TV, like most other people.”

Fountain Valley resident Eric Sarraf, who said a highlight of working for an airline was watching Bryant deplane in 2010 after he’d played an exhibition game in Barcelona, wishes some tickets had been set aside for fans on a budget.

“The common people really can’t afford the ticket prices.”

But diehard fan Mulligan is still hoping to attend today’s game, and she’ll hold on to that Lower Merion jersey when she goes.

She’s thinking it’ll be a game-time decision if she has to sell the jersey to buy the ticket.

Mulligan was 5 when Bryant was drafted, and imitated his moves when she learned to play basketball as a kid. She eventually played at Orange Coast College and in local pickup leagues.

But she says she had to stop playing a few months ago, when she was diagnosed with lupus. Like Bryant, she said, she’s learned what it’s like to play a game one day and pay for it, physically, the next.

“Every time he got injured and came back, it was like, ‘Well, I can do it,’” Mulligan said.

“It’s going to be an adjustment without him being there anymore. It’s going to be pretty weird.”