NEW YORK (AP) — Kobe Bryant shared a lengthy embrace with Carmelo Anthony and made his way toward the exit, tapping his chest and waving to the fans.
It may have been goodbye for now.
Quite possibly, it was goodbye for good.
Bryant got the cheers but not the victory in what might have been his last game at Madison Square Garden, as the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 99–95 on Sunday.
He already loved the place even before scoring his first point in the NBA here nearly two decades ago, and the only thing that’s changed now is how much the fans love him back.
“I can remember my first game coming in here, not knowing what the hell to expect and what to do, but just being in such a great arena,” Bryant said, “and then to be here 20 years later and to have that happen feels amazing.”
Bryant finished with 18 points, far off the 30.7 per game he had been averaging here and fewer than half the 40 or more he managed on three occasions during a series of highlights in the arena.
The 37-year-old superstar, who hasn’t said if he will retire after this season, missed two shots and twice fouled Anthony during New York’s 11–0 run that turned a three–point deficit into a 98–90 lead.
Anthony scored 24 points, and said if Bryant leaves he will miss the player he called a big brother.
“I told him, I said it’s not going to feel the same with him being gone,” Anthony said. “Him helping me kind of throughout my career, being that guy I can talk to, it’s not going to be the same.”
Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez and Langston Galloway all scored 14 points for the Knicks, who snapped a three-game losing streak with their first home victory of the season.
Bryant shot 6 for 19, but the poor finish can’t take away from all the other memories he has here.
He scored his first NBA point here on a free throw on Nov. 5, 1996, in his second game. He played in his first All-Star Game here in 1998, and scored 61 points here on Feb. 2, 2009, a record since surpassed by Anthony.
“To be able to come here and have the performances that I’ve had here in this building, I feel extremely, extremely fortunate,” Bryant said.
He can’t deliver now the way he did in so many previous trips to New York as he battles his way back from a preseason calf injury, but plenty of fans wanted him to. He was serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants while shooting free throws and fans were noticeably bummed when he missed shots—which must’ve seemed strange to Anthony, who was often defending him.
Knicks coach Derek Fisher, Bryant's friend and longtime teammate in Los Angeles, was ejected in the third quarter for arguing after rookie Kristaps Porzingis was called for fouling Bryant on a three-point attempt.
Lakers: Bryant was held below 30 points for the second time in his last nine trips to MSG. ... Roy Hibbert also scored 18 points.
Knicks: Lopez played a few possessions with only one sneaker after it fell off while he was playing defense and play didn't stop to give him a chance to get it back. ... Porzingis had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Lakers coach Byron Scott said Bryant recently told him for the first time that this could be his last season.
Scott said he was talking to Bryant about another subject he wouldn’t disclose when he said Bryant revealed that he might choose to retire next summer.
“Bottom line is he said this might be his last year,” Scott said.
Taking the shirt off his back
Fisher said he planned to wear No. 4 as a rookie with the Lakers in 1996, but when Scott decided to return as a player, Fisher switched to No. 2. He said some of his initial rookie trading cards feature him wearing No. 4.
“So he changed the course of history for me personally,” Fisher said.
Scott said he didn’t force Fisher to switch, but applauded the respect the rookie showed the veteran.
“He did the right thing,” Scott said.
Bryant, who had right shoulder surgery last season, wore a purple long-sleeved shirt under his jersey in the first half.