Metta World Peace knew what to expect from Sacramento fans Thursday night when Kobe Bryant was introduced at Sleep Train Arena.
Cheers. A lot of cheers.
“When I was here with the Kings, I always got mad when the fans would cheer for Kobe,” World Peace said. “So some of the fans, I would tell them to shut the (heck) up. Either you’re a King fan or you’re not, so I remember arguing with the fans when I was on the court, like root for us, not Kobe.
“It’s been interesting playing with Kobe because everywhere we go they root for him, so I’m used to it.”
It was no different Thursday night when Bryant was introduced for the final time as the Los Angeles Lakers made their final appearance in Sacramento this season. Bryant, who will retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA, scored 28 points in Sacramento’s 118-115 win. He averaged 26.7 points in 63 career games against the Kings.
Since Bryant announced this will be his last season, he’s been received with cheers on the road, even in arenas that have been the most hostile toward him.
That includes TD Garden in Boston and Sleep Train. Many of Bryant’s greatest moments came at then-Arco Arena in the early 2000s. The Lakers and Kings met in the playoffs from 2000 through 2002, culminating with the epic seven-game series in the 2002 Western Conference finals won by Los Angeles.
The Lakers have fallen way off from those days. Bryant is 37, and the Lakers are 8-29, the worst in the Western Conference.
But Bryant remains as popular as ever. There were plenty of Bryant jerseys in the stands, and he leads the voting for the NBA All-Star Game.
Thursday’s game was aired nationally on TNT, and play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan said Bryant undoubtedly would appreciate playing in Sacramento for the last time.
Harlan has called Bryant’s games his entire career, dating to the infamous Utah playoff game in 1997 when an 18-year old Bryant launched air balls as the Lakers were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals.
“I don’t know if I can recall a specific time in Sacramento because they all blend together going back that far, but I know a lot of history and what he is was colored by those games against the Kings early in his career,” Harlan said. “I think that’s pretty poignant, and I think Bryant knows that and appreciates that. If anyone will appreciate a last game on the road against a divisional foe, it will be Kobe and it will be ( Thursday) in his last game. ... He’s smart that way ; he’s in tune that way.”
Kings coach George Karl was asked what comes to mind when he thinks of Bryant.
“Championships. Lakers. He’s kicked my (butt) a lot,” Karl said. “I remember they had that (video of) his great games, and I coached like four of them.”
Karl said it was evident in 1996 that Bryant would be a great player, even as a 17-year-old playing in summer league.
“I saw him play the summer he came out – you knew he was going to be pretty special,” Karl said. “I never, ever give a high school guy as much (credit or) thought that he’d be this guy.”
World Peace was a part of Bryant’s last championship team in 2010 and rejoined the Lakers this season. He said Bryant’s farewell tour has been enjoyable.
“He’s playing at a high level; he’s still one of the best NBA players,” World Peace said. “And he’s definitely the best 37-year-old in the world.”