Kobe Bryant came out to cheers before his final game in Boston on Wednesday night, and left to them, too.
There appeared to be little bad blood between the home fans and the retiring Lakers star, despite the history between the two teams and Bryant’s past success against the Celtics. The P.A. announcer acknowledged it would be Bryant’s last game at the TD Garden, and he took time to acknowledge the fans, who were vocal in their appreciation.
As the game wound down and the Lakers closed in on a 112–104 upset victory, Boston fans serenaded Bryant with a round of “KO-BE, KO-BE” chants. Bryant posted his first double double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Bryant also hit a deep three late with under two minutes remaining to increase the Lakers’ lead to five and seal the win.
Bryant has always been respectful of the history between the Lakers and Celtics, and memorably scored a team-high 23 points to clinch Game 7 of the 2010 Finals in L.A. He said before the game that he believed the “sports gods” would match the longtime rival teams up again someday and was largely reverent of the Celtics’ traditions, down to the pregame music selection.
Before the game, Celtics management presented Bryant with a piece of the team’s iconic parquet floor as a gift.
The Lakers are buried at the bottom of the Western Conference while the Celtics are competitive and in the thick of the pack in the East. The rivalry itself, steeped in tradition and including may of basketball’s all-time greats dating back to the 1960s, has waxed and waned over the years, with the two sides’ on-court product not always aligning in quality. The matchup enjoyed a renaissance in the late 2000s, with Boston beating out L.A. for the 2008 title and Bryant leading the Lakers to titles the next two years. Before the game, Bryant said losing in the 2008 finals was the “turning point” in his development as a leader.
Bryant, who grew up a Lakers fan, worked out for the Celtics prior to the 1996 draft, in which they passed on him to choose Antoine Walker sixth overall. Bryant slipped to No. 13, where the Hornets selected and then dealt him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.
He addressed reporters following L.A.’s win in Boston.
“Honestly, if I could chant for them I would,” he said, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. “I don’t think the fans here really understand how much they drove me.”