WHEN KOBE Bryant arrived to the visitor's locker room for the final time in his career Tuesday, as always, some soft pretzels and mustard sat in his locker.
Every time Bryant has come to Philadelphia during his 20-year career, 76ers equipment manager Scotty Rego delivers the goods, knowing Bryant may or may not nibble on the snack before the game.
"But if they're not there," said Rego, "then he'll ask where they are."
"Everytime I come here, there are fresh pretzels sitting on top of my locker," Bryant said in a crowded pregame news conference. "Every year. And I'd always have my Larry's cheesesteaks waiting for me after the game. That's a ritual since I've been coming here. Scotty Rego and Lump (director of basketball administration Allen Lumpkin) always took care of me."
Rego, who has been with the team since the late 1980s, has a long history with Bryant, dating back even before he was taken with the 13th overall pick in 1996. The relationship formed while Bryant was a star at Lower Merion.
"When he was in high school - now the rules are different, I don't think a high school kid would be able to do this - (Sixers coach) John Lucas invited him to work out with our guys at St. Joe's. Then, our offices were at Vet Stadium, because we played at the Spectrum and the main place to work out was at St. Joe's. So Kobe comes and starts working out with guys like Jerry Stackhouse, Vernon Maxwell, Shawn Bradley, Sharone Wright. He would work out, hone his skills. One time he took off from the foul line and tried to dunk over Sean Bradley in a 5-on-5 game. He missed the dunk, but Shawn Bradley had nothing to do with it. He only missed it, because he tried to throw it down so hard. I think he was a junior or senior at the time. He could hang with those guys."
It was after one of those workouts when Bryant asked Rego for some advice.
"It was close to the time he was going to make his decision (about turning pro or going to college)," Rego recalled. "It was after a workout and I have a hand truck full of cases of canned Gatorade to take down to our offices at Vet Stadium and I'm loading them into my car. He's outside waiting for a ride, like a high school kid would, and the next thing I know, he's grabbing the cases and loading up my car with the Gatorade. He then says to me, 'You've been around for a long time. What do you think I should do?' I had been around about eight or nine seasons then. So what I told him probably proved to be the beginning and the end of my scouting career. I told him he should go to college. My advice was to go for one year and at least live that college life, because once you turn pro, you'll never get that. He still busts my chops about that."
Before the game against the Lakers, Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Tony Wroten, who tore his ACL for the second time back in January, was about eight to 10 days away from returning. Wroten's expression was that of someone who is on the verge of returning to the game he loves.
"It might be earlier than next week," Wroten said, smiling. "I'm excited. I came a long way. I'm just ready to get out there with my team.
"Nothing changes. In all the games, we've pretty much been in all of them. It's just capitalizing on little things, taking care of the ball. I'm going to do whatever to help the team win."
If Sixers guard Phil Pressey was dutifully scouted by the Lakers on Tuesday, there's a good reason. His dad, longtime NBA veteran Paul Pressey, is an assistant on Byron Scott's staff.
"The main thing I've learned from him is just to continue to work on my game, stay humble and get through the long year," Phil Pressey said. "You can't get too high, you can't get too down on yourself when you're losing or not playing well. You have to stay at a steady mindset and continue to work on your game."