Kobe Bryant's farewell tour officially begins Tuesday night in the city where his career began. The former Lower Merion High School standout will face the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center for the last time as a Los Angeles Laker.
"It's a honor to sort of welcome him back to Philadelphia to begin with," Sixers coach Brett Brown said Sunday after a 92-84 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis. "Kobe's legend has lived in that city for many years and will continue to live.
"For him to come back and play his first game [at Wells Fargo] after announcing his retirement is a privilege for all of us."
Bryant, 37, became the first guard to go to the NBA straight out of high school when the Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 13th overall pick on June 26, 1996. Bryant was traded to the Lakers weeks later for Vlade Divac.
He went on to win five NBA titles and made 17 all-star appearances during a two-decade career.
"He's been around 20 seasons," rookie center Jahlil Okafor said. "That's 20 years, and I'm 19. That's before I was even born. It's kind of bittersweet hearing that he's retiring. He's one of the best all-time players ever. So I'm excited to play against him."
But this game will be far from an instant classic.
The Sixers have lost 28 straight games, a U.S. professional sports record, dating back to March 27. Their 18 consecutive losses to start this season are tied for the league record set by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets.
But the Sixers are only slight underdogs in this one. The Lakers (2-14) are the league's second-worst team. Part of their problem has to do with Bryant's struggles.
He is shooting a career-worst 30.5 percent from the field and 20.2 percent on three-pointers. Bryant is averaging 15.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
While he continues to struggle, rookie guard D'Angelo Russell's play has improved. He is averaging 13.4 points over his last five games after averaging 9.2 in the first 11.
Sixers fans are familiar with Russell. The team was expected to take him with the third overall pick out of Ohio State, but the Lakers selected him one spot sooner.