This was the perfect scenario for the 76ers.
On a special night when they honored the late Moses Malone, the sellout crowd of 20,510 also paid tribute to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant one last time.
And the Sixers actually won, 103-91, snapping a maddening 28-game losing streak. They won for the first time this season (1-18). Their last victory came all the way back on March 25 of last season at Denver.
The 37-year-old Bryant, who starred at nearby Lower Merion High School, looked like an aging player with 20 points on 7-for-26 shooting. Bryant scored nine points in the first 74 seconds – three 3-pointers – but slowed significantly the rest of the way.
On this night, statistics didn’t matter. Bryant, a 17-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, was honored by the Philadelphia fans along with Julius Erving before the game. The fans gave Bryant a standing ovation, which was a tad surprising given the tense relationship through the years.
Bryant never expected to spend his entire 20-year career with the Lakers.
“Honestly, man, in high school, I always hoped to be a Sixer,” Bryant said. “I was hoping that at the time. (Allen) Iverson was a force. It was always a dream of mine to play in Philadelphia. It didn’t happen.”
Eclipsing 25,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists while winning an NBA Most Valuable Player Award and two Olympic Gold Medals are milestones that Bryant never expected to reach.
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In fact, Bryant reminisced that when he was 11 years old, he went scoreless in the Sonny Hill League.
“That was the turning point for me — it really was,” Bryant said. “Eleven years old, and I was hoping I could get a technical free throw. Zero points the whole summer, and that became a big motivating thing for me, to make sure I came back to the Sonny Hill League and I was ready to play, I was ready to compete with them.”
Bryant did more than compete. He wound up becoming one of the greatest players in NBA history.
“He wasn’t like any other 18-year-old I’ve met in my life,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott when asked to recall Bryant’s rookie season. “He wasn’t reading the funnies of the newspaper or Sports Illustrated. He was reading TIME Magazine or other stuff I wasn’t reading until I was 30. … He was different. At 18, he knew exactly what he wanted to be. He wanted to be the best player in the league. He was the best player in this league for a long time. He didn’t get credit for that.”
The Sixers haven’t gotten credit for much considering how far this franchise has careened in recent years.
They’ve started to improve and were finally rewarded with a win. It was their first win at home since March 20.
“This is a relief on many levels,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “We are greedy. We want a little bit more.”
Robert Covington led the Sixers with 23 points and buried five shots from beyond the arc. He would trade any individual numbers for more wins.
“It really feels good to get that first win under our belt,” Covington said. “We’re hoping it doesn’t stop here. We want more. We are going to keep putting in the work to make this happen more. I think the feeling is really good because of the work that we’ve put in every day.”
Bryant has put in more work than just about every other player in the league. There were times through the years when he would show up at a gymnasium at 6 a.m. on the morning after a game to develop his skills. He was simply relentless.
Whether it was just another regular season game, a playoff game or other tournaments, Bryant wanted to be the best.
“You’re looking at 24 of the best players in the world,” Brown said. “Even in that environment, he’s clearly the alpha dog. He acts like it. He carries himself like it. When you see All-Star Games, they’re fun until six minutes are left in the game. He wants the ball.”