Kobe Bryant has always had an affinity for his high school, Lower Merion, and the community feels the same way about him. The two intersected for Bryant's final NBA game in Philadelphia.
On Sunday, Bryant said this would be his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team he jumped to directly from Lower Merion.
Bryant held a news conference Tuesday before the game at the Wells Fargo Center against the 76ers. He was honored before the game and seemed to be enjoying the platitudes and renewing acquaintances.
He acknowledged some of the mentors he had from Lower Merion. "I had great coaching and also had great teachers," he said. "One in particular I still talk to, to this day, was a huge muse of mine."
Bryant was talking about Jeanne Mastriano, who has been an English teacher at Lower Merion since 1986. She taught Bryant's sophomore English class and also taught him speaking arts. When told that Bryant mentioned her, Mastriano, who helped set up an outing for the Lower Merion fans, was taken aback.
"It's a rush and any teacher's dream to make an impact on people's lives," Mastriano said at courtside before the game. "Kobe has been very loyal and generous to the high school."
Bryant also looked back fondly on playing in Philadelphia's Sonny Hill League, the source of "some of my finest memories."
He talked about struggling, not scoring all summer as an 11-year-old.
"To his credit, he took that and used that as a motivational way for him to move to the next level," Sonny Hill said.
Bryant echoed that thought. "It became a big motivating thing for me to make sure I came back to the Sonny Hill League and was ready to play," the Lakers star said.
Bryant also cited his high school coach, Gregg Downer, who is still the coach at Lower Merion. The two won a state title together in Bryant's senior year, 1996.
"I can't stress enough how much he's meant," Bryant said. "I was really lucky in my career to have great coaches. He was certainly one of them."
Bryant said Downer taught him the midrange game.
"That really gave me a leg up on most of my peers," Bryant said. "He used to take the ball rack and put it 10 feet away from the hoop and force me to one-two dribble, stop on a dime, and pull up and shoot."
Downer and Julius Erving were part of the pregame ceremony, handing Bryant a Lower Merion jersey.
"It feels good," Downer said of being part of the ceremony and part of Bryant's life. "I think we have a mutual respect for one another, and I respect the fact that he never forgot his roots."