Kobe overcome with emotions as farewell tour begins

PHILADELPHIA – Near the top of Kobe Bryant’s locker before Tuesday night’s game, next to his nameplate, lay an uneaten soft pretzel.

It’s become a tradition. Since Bryant played his first road game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 26, 1996, he has always had a pretzel waiting for him when he arrives in the locker room. After games, he typically has a cheesesteak from Larry’s Steaks delivered, courtesy of the 76ers.

Now, that ritual has ended. Bryant played his final game in his hometown on Tuesday. The result wasn’t what he wanted, as the 76ers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 to win their first game of the season and snap their NBA-record 28-game losing streak. Before Tuesday, the 76ers were 0-18 this season, tied for the worst start in league history.

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Bryant couldn’t continue what seemed like would be a storybook farewell after he hit three-pointers on the Lakers’ first three possessions. He finished with a team-high 20 points, but he made only 7 of 26 field goals and 4 of 17 three-pointers.

Still, Bryant wasn’t in a sour mood following the Lakers’ seventh consecutive loss and another poor shooting night. In fact, he was overcome with emotions.

Byant, who announced on Sunday that he would retire following this season, received a pregame celebration that was appropriate for one of the best players to ever come out of Philadelphia. He recalled competing in the city’s famed Sonny Hill League as an 11-year old and not scoring a point the entire summer. At the time, he idolized Philadelphia-area kids who were a few years older than him such as future NBA players Rasheed Wallace and Alvin Williams.

According to Bryant, struggling that badly that summer helped fuel his ambition and become a star at Lower Merion High School in nearby Ardmore, Penn. and for much of his 20-season career with the Lakers.

At halfcourt before Tuesday’s game, Bryant hugged his high school coach, Gregg Downer, and legendary 76ers forward Julius Erving. He also watched as the 76ers honored him with a video showcasing his Lower Merion and Lakers’ highlights.

“They got me,” Bryant said, who said he dreamed of playing for the 76ers when he was in high school. “I wasn’t expecting that type of reaction and ovation. It was emotional for me. I’m deeply appreciative – beyond belief. It was a really, really special moment.”

The sell-out crowd of 20,510 included thousands of Bryant’s fans, many of whom wore his jersey and screamed his name when the public address announcer introduced him and listed his accomplishments: 17-time All-Star, third leading scorer in league history, 2008 MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and five-time NBA champion.

Bryant noticed numerous familiar faces, including a few ushers working behind the Lakers’ bench who used to babysit Bryant when he was a toddler and his father, Joe, played for the 76ers in the late-1970s. Bryant joked that he wouldn’t sit still during games, so the ushers watched after him.

Bryant said it was coincidental that his first road game since his retirement announcement came in Philadelphia. When he recently decided this would be his final season, he wanted to make sure his first game would come at home. With the Lakers starting an eight-game road trip on Tuesday, Bryant said he didn’t want to wait until they returned to Los Angeles on Dec. 15 to make the announcement.

He played in a home game on Sunday night, spent Monday driving around Philadelphia and checking out the former parks where he used to compete and took part in an unforgettable celebration on Tuesday.

“You can’t script this stuff,” Bryant said. “I can’t. The amount of respect and appreciation and adoration I have for the city and to be able to have this here just means everything to me.”

For Bryant, this is just the beginning of what will be an extended farewell. He plans on savoring all of the moments.

“For once in my career, refrain from being such a control freak,” Bryant said. “Just take it in, man, and just enjoy the process.”

Source: MSN Sports

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