A memorable Philly farewell for Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant started the final game he will play in Philadelphia looking like the old Kobe Bryant, and finished the evening looking simply old.
So this was no storybook ending, unless one considers snapping a 28-game losing streak as the 76ers did in Tuesday's 103-91 win over the Los Angles Lakers before a sellout crowd of 20,510 at the Wells Fargo Center.
While it was the first win this season for 1-18 Sixers, who also lost their final 10 last year, Bryant's farewell tour took center stage, two days after he announced that this would be his final season.
Bryant hit three of his first four three-point field goals and finished the first quarter with 13 points as the Lakers held a 33-26 advantage.
In the early part of the game, Bryant felt the young Sixers were star-struck.
"They were," he said to laughter during an engaging postgame press conference. "When I came out and made three in a row(actually three of four) I could sense that (they were thinking) I really don't want to touch him."
Bryant felt that the players thought it might be like the time he scored a career-high of 81 points against the Toronto Raptors.
"Is this going to be an 81 situation?" he said they were thinking. "I don't know what to do and I am just playing possum because I know my legs aren't going to carry this energy for 48 minutes, but certainly I could sense a little bit of that."
Now 37, Bryant seems almost relieved to have made the announcement. The reality is that his body can't take the rigors of an NBA season.
Bryant was clearly humbled and gratified in his last visit as an NBA player to his hometown area of Philadelphia. He usually has absolute control of his emotions but not on this night. At the end of the game he received one of many standing ovations, with the crowd chanting his name.
"I try not to be emotionally in public but that got to me," he said.
Throughout his post game press conference the 37-year-old Bryant kept offering concessions to age. He is now in his 20th NBA season after jumping directory from Lower Merion High to the Lakers.
"I am trying to figure out how to navigate my body through a situation where I can start to find some consistency," he said.
The Lakers are now 2-15 and could battle the Sixers for the league's worst mark. Still, Bryant says he and the Lakers have to work themselves through these seemingly impossible times.
"You can't run from a very, very tough time and can't run from criticism and can't run from the fact that you are not playing as well as you want to be playing," said Bryant, who scored 20 points, but shot 7 for 26 from the field, including 4 of 17 from beyond the arc. "You've got to stand and face that stuff just like you would if somebody is singing your praises and you are winning championships and everything is fine."
Through the years he always didn't receive a hero's welcome in Philadelphia, especially after the Lakers beat the Sixers in the 2001 NBA finals. Still, Bryant has warm memories of Philadelphia and they began well before he was a player. They go back to when his father Joe Bryant played for the Sixers.
"There are some people (tonight) who held me when I was a baby," he said. "There are ushers who worked behind the bench who would babysit me. My father was playing at the Spectrum. "
He was glad to see so many familiar faces, the final time as an opposing player he will step foot in Philadelphia. And with the end of his career being counted in games instead of the seasons, Kobe Bryant allowed himself the opportunity to soak in the adulation before he had to get his creaky body ready for yet another NBA game.