Kobe Bryant played his final game in Boston Wednesday night, capping off a chapter in his career deeply tied to the historic rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
Prior to the game, Bryant spoke at length in a press conference including his memories competing against the team that set out to “Beat L-A.”
When Bryant entered the league in 1996, he had a deep appreciation for the Celtics franchise.
“I grew up a really big historian of the game,” Bryant said. “Understanding Boston’s history, the players, many different players, championships won, this place is always special to me. The history I think is what makes this city different than all the rest.”
Bryant worked out for the Celtics leading up to the Draft. The Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 13th pick.
“I remember my dad telling me that I had a pre-draft work out in Boston and I was like, ‘What? Why would you do that to me? What kind of dad does that?'” he recalled. “So I went and they had the kit laid out for me and I was just kind of looking at [the jersey] like, ‘Am I really about to do this thing?’
“I put it on and I went out and D.J. (Dennis Johnson) was there, who I learned a lot from. I became extremely comfortable. I respected the franchise and history so much that I worked as hard as I could in the workout. I really wanted to impress them because of the legacy. If they decided to draft me, I was going to carry this franchise the way they deserved to be.”
The Cheers Before the Storm
As the Celtics struggled prior to the “New Big Three Era,” Bryant was well received at TD Garden as Lakers fans represented on the East Coast. He even received “M-V-P” chants.
“2007, felt amazing,” he said. “It was a different animal, too, because the Celtics were struggling so it was a great opportunity for all the up-and-coming Lakers fans to come out to Boston to the game. It was a little deceptive because there were so many Lakers fans here at the time. 2008 on, though, that wasn’t going to happen.”
The Celtics beat the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals with a commanding Game 6 victory in Boston behind a newly constructed roster headlined by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
“Their roster was a mixture of young players, veteran players, nasty, tough players,” Bryant said. “At the same time, I was extremely excited because I might have an opportunity to live out this childhood dream of the Lakers and the Celtics [rivalry]. Then when you are in that situation, especially in 2010, it’s like I don’t want to be the player years from now where the Lakers lost twice against the Celtics; I don’t want to be that guy. There was a lot of pressure to not let that happen.”
Focused on winning the rematch, Bryant led the Lakers to the 2010 championship against the Celtics.
“For the second half of my career, the most important piece is that we lost in 2008,” Bryant said. “I was determined and said, ‘Listen, I have to figure a solution and do whatever is necessary. I can’t go through this,’ and that was a turning point.”
During those series, Bryant fiercely competed against Paul Pierce. He can foresee one day taking a trip down memory lane about their duels.
“I’ve known Paul since he was in Kansas,” he said. “It’s a mutual respect that we have for each other because we’ve been through so many battles. When it’s all said and done, I’m sure we’ll get together and kind of reminisce on old times.”
The Celtics stand at 18-13 while the Lakers are 5-27. The days of a Finals preview are in the past — for now — but Bryant believes one day both teams will find themselves contending at the same time again.
“I think one thing we can trust as sports fans is you can trust the sports gods are going to line these teams up again. Its going to happen,” Bryant said of the Lakers and Celtics. “You go back to Russell, Wes, and Magic and Bird; it’s going to happen. That’s just how sports are. Whether its 20 years from now or 30 years from now, it’s going to happen and when it does, we will all sit back and enjoy it.”
For now, he will try to enjoy his final game in the building that has housed so many memories in his career.
“It’s always cool when I come here,” he said. “I always look up into the rafters and scan the crowd and always appreciate the sea of green. I’ll be doing that quite a bit tonight. This building is a place that really pushed me to win those two championships. This place has a lot of memories: good ones, bad ones, weird ones.”
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