He heard a lot of booing early in the contest, but by the time he scored his last two baskets to help the Los Angeles Lakers put the finishing touches on a 114-102 victory over the 76ers at the Wachovia Center, Kobe Bryant was hearing the fans respond with delight.
His acrobatic driving layup with 1 minute, 24 seconds left gave the visitors a 110-97 lead last night. Then Bryant freed himself for a step-back 21-footer with a sweet between-the-legs dribble that had two defenders grabbing for air. That left the Sixers trailing by 112-100 with 1:02 to go.
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who has made a few deluxe plays of his own, was shown on the giant screen hanging over the court, shaking his head in wonderment.
Bryant finished with a game high of 32 points, including 10 in the fourth period as the Lakers put the game away. The team was coming off a 118-117 loss to the host Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
"I was a little more aggressive when going to the basket," Bryant said after meeting Hall of Famer Earl "The Pearl" Monroe in the Lakers' locker room. "I was focused because of the Indiana loss. Last night, I had a couple of good looks that I settled for as opposed to attacking the rim."
Bryant scored 17 points during a first half that ended with the Lakers ahead by 61-51.
The previous night, the 30-year-old Bryant became the second-youngest player in NBA history to reach 22,000 career points when he finished with 28 against the Pacers. Bryant ranks only behind the great Wilt Chamberlain in that statistical category.
Chamberlain was one day younger than Bryant when he reached 22,000 in 1966.
Bryant received a mixture of cheers and boos when he was introduced before the game - perhaps a sign of lingering bad feelings over the crack he made about wanting to cut out the Sixers' hearts when the teams met in the 2001 NBA Finals.
A few fans in attendance offered their reasons for the treatment the Philadelphia-born Bryant has received in recent years when he visits his hometown.
"He came here for an All-Star Game and said he wasn't from Philly," said 46-year-old William Holland, who wore a Lakers jersey bearing Bryant's No. 24.
"It's a sign of respect," Anthony Burley, 48, said of the booing.
"I think people get a kick out of booing him because he's on the other team, and Philadelphia has to maintain its reputation," said 49-year-old Mike Pietrangelo.
Still, Bryant said coming back to Philadelphia never gets old.
"It's always special," he said.