Kobe prepares for his next, and perhaps his last trip to MSG
NEW YORK (AP) Kobe Bryant always loved the history at Madison Square Garden, even before he made some of his own.
There's so much to soak in, from the famous faces sitting courtside to the jerseys of great players that hang overhead.
''I always try to take a look around, always try to kind of embrace the moment and kind of feel the energy a little,'' Bryant said. ''I always try to make it a point to do that. Is it a little different this time around? Yeah.''
That's because this time could be the last time.
The Lakers visit the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoon, Bryant's first game at MSG in nearly three years. And if his 20th season is indeed his last in the NBA, it will be his final trip to a building he loves performing in perhaps more than any other.
He's done it as well as anybody. His average of 30.7 points in 15 games is the highest among active players, according to STATS, and his 61 points there on Feb. 2, 2009, remains the record for a visitor.
And when he takes the floor Sunday, the memories of that night, maybe his first All-Star Game in 1998, and others will come rushing back. And just as quickly, Bryant will push them aside again.
''You think about it a little bit, but I block all that stuff out, just go out and play,'' Bryant said.
The Lakers are early in their first trip of the season, with most of the games against Eastern Conference teams they visit only once.
Bryant, 37, has said he doesn't know if this is his last season. But even if it is, he doesn't want one of those farewell tours where teams he's spent two decades battling honor him. To Bryant, the best way to honor him is to try to beat him.
''I really just appreciate the game the way it's been played over the years and I appreciate the competition, so it's like, the biggest sign of respect to me would be to approach it just like it was any other game and try to kick our butt just like it was any other game,'' he said. ''Those are the things that I hold extremely dear.''
Knicks fans may want to beat him, but many will cheer him. It's always been that way in New York and that was proven again Friday night in Brooklyn, where he received such loud applause in the Lakers' 104-98 victory that Los Angeles coach Byron Scott said one Nets player told him it felt like a road game.
Scott expects more of the same Sunday.
''When you talk about New York, they are basketball fans, big time,'' Scott said. ''They love greatness and they're going to show their appreciation. No matter if they don't like you as a team or not, they love great players.''
Knicks President Phil Jackson, Bryant's coach on five championship-winning teams, said before the season he didn't believe this would be Bryant's last season, but that perhaps it would be his last in Los Angeles.
But Bryant insisted again Friday that if he's still in the NBA next season, it will only be with the Lakers.
''How many times do I have to say it?'' Bryant said. ''I've said it so many times. I'm here, I'm a Laker for life. I'm not playing anywhere else no matter what. It's just not going to happen. I bleed purple and gold, and that's just how it's going to be.''