HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kobe Bryant is just 24 points shy of passing Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
That he could reach that milestone a short train ride away from where he cut his teeth as a high school basketball star would seem like the ideal way for things to play out tonight when Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers face the Philadelphia 76ers, except for that little issue the city of Philadelphia has with one of its greatest exports.
Bryant is loathed by sports fans in the city. So if he does pass O’Neal tonight, don’t expect a fireworks show or a standing ovation for the pride of Lower Merion High. Because, as Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Smallwood, no one wears the black hat in Philadelphia better than Bryant:
He is unquestionably one of the most despised athletes in Philadelphia history.
Just last week, Bryant was ranked at No. 2 in the Comcast SportsNet series of the Top 20 All-Time Philadelphia Villains. Only the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, with Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, topped him.
Listen to sports talk radio today and don’t be surprised if venom spewed about Bryant generates more air time than the results of Super Bowl XVLI.
That’s just the way it’s been between Philadelphia and Bryant.
If you’ve ever wondered where that chip on Bryant’s shoulder comes from, just take a look at the peculiar relationship he has with his hometown and it might make sense to you.
Bryant left for Italy, where his father was a pro star, when he was just 6. He returned for high school, though, and that’s easily the most crucial time for a budding star to bond with the hometown fans. But he had more doubters as a 17-year-old declaring for the draft than he had supporters.
(If only they knew the things he would do in his career …)
The relationship never healed. Bryant helped the Lakers to that 2001 NBA title over the Allen Iverson-led Sixers, a title clinched on hometown soil, and then there was that nasty incident at the 2002 All-Star Game when he was booed after winning MVP honors.
If the Sixers keep him from getting loose tonight this whole story moves on the next stop and the dynamics change completely. But he’s had just four games all season where he didn’t score at least 24 points and he’s averaging 29.4 points per game … like we said, it’s going to be interesting to see what sort of reaction the folks at the Wells Fargo Center have tonight if Bryant has just an average night before the hometown fans.