The Philadelphia 76ers honored Kobe Bryant. Then they humbled him.
The franchis compiling the longest losing streak in the history of major North American team sports snapped the slump as a farewell present to the retiring veteran who went straight to the pros after playing high school basketball in the Philadelphia area. The more welcome goodbye gift came before the game in the form of a framed Lower Merion High School basketball jersey.
The 76ers defeated the Lakers 103 to 91 on the strength of Robert Covington’s 23 points and Nerlens Noel’s 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Bryant scored 20 points in defeat off of 7-for-26 shooting, including a woeful 4-for-17 behind the arc. After scoring the Lakers’ first 11 points, Bryant performed horribly in part due to swarming defense, including a sensational swat by Jerami Grant.
On Tuesday night, the City of Brotherly Love finally cheered the shooting guard who, along with Shaquille O’Neal, buried the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. When Bryant returned the following year for the All-Star Game, the Philadelphia Faithful lustily booed their not-so-favorite son. “Yeah, my feelings are hurt,” Kobe told TV interviewer Jim Gray. “I mean, I’m just out there trying to play and have a good time. My feelings are hurt being from Philadelphia.”
The fans picked on him. They did so perhaps because they kicked themselves for not picking him in 1996, bypassing Kobe (as 11 other teams bypassed him) for Allen Iverson, himself a future Hall of Famer but lacking a single ring to Bryant’s five. The 76ers didn’t say Kobe’s name on draft day but their fans chanted it on his last day in Philadelphia wearing an NBA uniform.
Tuesday’s victory puts the 76ers at 1-18 one season after they started 0-17 and two seasons after they lost 26 straight. The team last won a game in late March.
Bryant’s Lakers sink to 2-15, giving them the worst record in the West. They work on breaking a seven-game skid, now tied for a league-worst losing streak with the Denver Nuggets, in Washington on Wednesday night.