Philadelphia 76ers: Reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s last homecoming in South Philly

(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

A look back at the legend’s final meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kobe Bryant and Philly have always had a relationship, but both sides at times were misunderstood. In the Black Mamba’s last season, he announced his retirement before a road trip, and coincidentally his first game after the big announcement was a final homecoming game on Broad Street.

Kobe grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia while his father played for the Philadelphia 76ers. When he was eight, his family moved to Italy while his father played in the European league. They returned home to Lower Merion when Kobe was ready for high school.  He immediately gained attention on the local basketball scene, as fans from around the area would try to buy student tickets to get a seat to watch the 17-year-old phenom.

Kobe Bean Bryant had a huge decision to make at the end of his Lower Merion run. Many linked Bryant to LaSalle, as his father was an assistant coach with the program, but Kobe neglected the NCAA entirely and became eligible to be drafted in the 1996 NBA Draft.

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He was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, who moved him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, where Kobe spent the entirety of his career. Bryant went on to be a five-time NBA champion, an MVP, a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, and even put up the second-highest scoring total in NBA history with 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, among so many other accomplishments.

Come Dec. 1, 2015 in Philly, Kobe wasn’t sure what to expect from a crowd that previously booed him when Philadelphia hosted the 2002 NBA All-Star weekend. Of course, this stems from the previous Finals matchup where Kobe was quoted saying “I want to rip their hearts out,” when playing against Allen Iverson and the 76ers.

The Sixers made him a tribute video and presented him a Lower Merion No. 33 jersey at center court, given to him by his former high school coach, and Sixers legend Dr. J. The entire stadium gave him a standing ovation, and Kobe was thrilled to have that closure with his hometown finishing out his basketball career.

As a fan of the 76ers and basketball in general, I always pulled for Kobe, even when some fans said “he’s from the suburbs,” or “he spent most of his childhood in Italy.” He had the heart of a Philadelphian, the work ethic, and the grit that you just don’t always see in players today. The “Mamba Mentality” was a legitimate mindset that Bryant had, not going out to clubs or parties, but putting extra hours in at the gym, and showing everyone why his number 24 is the number of hours in a day you need to dedicate to your craft.

I was happy that the city could put the differences aside and give Kobe the homecoming he deserved. As a fan of basketball, in general, it’s hard to not recognize the greatness he would show on the floor night in and night out, Laker fan or not.

On top of the roaring ovation Kobe received, the crowd was in awe as he started out the game with a few 3-pointers that had the audience jumping out of their seats. Ironically, this was also a night where the Sixers recognized the great center, Moses Malone. Kobe ended the night with 20 points, two assists, and five rebounds.

This was one of the most memorable sporting events I have ever, and will ever attend. The energy and emotions seen in the Center on that evening were something out of a movie. It was a beautiful way to close out the conflicted relationship Kobe Bryant and Philadelphia had, but I think this shows a greater lesson — to bury the hatchet and move forward with a smile on your face. We are shaped by the way we handle things in the face of adversity, and Kobe was someone to look up to and strive to be like in any tough situation.

As we all mourn the terrible loss of Kobe, his daughter Gigi, and the others taken in this horrific accident, we need to focus on the perspective and work ethic that Kobe would want all of us to have, even in such awful circumstances. He can inspire all of us to be better every day in all facets of life, as a student, athlete, or family member.

Kobe was possibly even more dedicated to fatherhood than he was to basketball, guiding Gigi to greatness in her young career.  Kobe Bryant was bigger than basketball, and he will be missed by not only the sports world but the entire world in general. My generation lost one of our most beloved heroes. Our condolences to Vanessa Bryant and the entire Bryant family.

Next. Kobe's legacy in the City of Brotherly Love. dark

RIP Kobe and Gigi. Mamba Forever.