Kobe Bryant starts the game three for four from the three-point line to give the Lakers a 9-6 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers. What a way to start off his final game at the Wells Fargo Center, in the city that had such an influence in the development of Kobe’s game from a young age.
The date was December 1, 2015 and I was in the upper bowl of the Wells Fargo Center. My mom convinced me to buy tickets to the Philadelphia 76ers home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, immediately following Kobe Bryant announcing his final year retirement tour.
I was finishing up my last set of finals before graduating college that winter and I was not sure my schedule would allow me to make it to the game. However, I decided quickly that I had to be at this game. Other than Allen Iverson, Kobe was my biggest basketball idol because of his Philadelphia roots and I realized I could not miss my last opportunity to see him play in person.
I entered the arena that night wearing a Kobe Bryant shirt on under my jacket, something unfathomable to myself and to anyone who knows me since I have been a die-hard Sixers fan from birth. Thinking back on it, I do not think there was, is, or ever will be someone in the NBA that I would do that for, especially in the city of Philadelphia.
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I was not alone in my support of Kobe that night though. As Hall of Famer, Julius Erving aka “Doctor J”, presented Kobe with his high school jersey from Lower Merion before the game, there was not a dry eye in the arena.
Now Kobe was old, in NBA years of course. During his final season and no one was expecting the “Black Mamba” of his prime to show up. However for one minute, just one, the arena traveled back in time and watched Kobe make three of his first four three-pointers.
It was unbelievable, he kept pulling up and everyone in the arena wanted him to do just that. All the while, he wore his signature cold-blooded, emotionless look on his face. I have been to countless regular season games, as well as, playoff games against rivals Boston and Toronto. I can say without a doubt in my mind that I have NEVER heard the Wells Fargo Center as loud as it was in that moment.
Philadelphia is the city that gets a bad reputation, specifically due to Eagles’ fans throwing batteries at Santa. However, the Philadelphia 76ers fans can be just as ruthless. They boo anyone and everyone that comes into the arena, especially former players. I have even seen boos rain down on children performing free-throw contests at halftime of a game.
Yet, in this one moment, this one minute to start the game, on December 1st, 2015. The entire arena, no the entire city of Philadelphia cheered and screamed incessantly for an opposing team’s player.
However, it was not just any player, it was Kobe Bryant. The young boy who grew up here and was drafted from Lower Merion high school directly into the NBA. The young boy who wore the city of Philadelphia like a badge of honor wherever he went, even as he found a new home in the City of Angels.
Well now Kobe Bryant has become an angel himself, at the young life age of 41. He is deservedly immortalized in the Staples Center with both of his jerseys, 8 and 24, having been retired for the purple and gold.
Kobe’s lasting memory will be different for each and every person and that is what is so special and unique about his life and career. For me though, it will always be that cold night in December, where for one minute, Kobe made me feel like a kid again in my driveway counting down 3…2…1…then yelling Kobe as the shot left my hand.
His connection to the Philadelphia 76ers and the city as a whole won’t be forgotten. Rest in peace “Black Mamba”.