The big first surprise of the Lakers’ season, other than their 2-14 record, came in the form of pregame introductions in Philadelphia.
The notoriously fickle and ardently anti-Kobe Bryant crowd stood and made themselves heard.
They cheered. Loudly.
It was as unexpected as it gets, the hometown crowd showing its appreciation after typically booing Bryant whenever the Lakers visited the 76ers. There were even some “Ko-be, Ko-be” chants from fans, plenty of whom wore Lakers jerseys.
Bryant’s farewell tour started Tuesday in a sense, the 76ers presenting him with a framed jersey from his high school, Lower Merion.
Bryant’s high school coach, Gregg Downer, and 76ers legend Julius Erving were on hand to give it to him at center court before tipoff. Bryant seemed genuinely appreciative.
He has struggled mightily this season but seemed to rise to the occasion Tuesday, at least in the early going.
Bryant made three of his first four shots, all from three-point range. Some “M-V-P” chants could be heard after his third make.
Bryant also airballed a three-point attempt and missed two others as well from behind the arc.
But he then added a 20-footer and a short hook off a rebound for 13 points in the first nine minutes as the Lakers trailed, 20-19, at Wells Fargo Center.
Not all 76ers fans were thrilled to be in attendance for Bryant’s last game here. One held up a sign that said, “Kobe is no Answer,” a reference to former 76ers star Allen Iverson.
There were plenty of other pro-Bryant signs, however, and one that said, “Why can’t Chip Kelly retire instead?” Kelly is the embattled Philadelphia Eagles coach.
Bryant, 37, announced his retirement Sunday, effective at the end of the season.