Why Philly Fans Should Boo Kobe Bryant Tonight

We are the sore losers. So let's embrace it!

Photo | Daniel Shirley, USA Today Sports

Photo | Daniel Shirley, USA Today Sportsc

Tonight, Kobe Bryant plays his last professional game in Philadelphia. The 37-year-old, a winner of 5 NBA Championships, is also a 17-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA team and a 12-time All-Defensive Team honoree. He is one of the greatest players of his generation.

And, tonight, Sixers fans should boo him.

Why? Because it would be funny. Full stop. If Kobe Bryant came to Philadelphia for one last game and fans booed him like crazy, it would be hilarious. It would be funnier than the time Sixers fans booed Beyonce (and the rest of Destiny’s Child) at Game 4 of the 2001 NBA Finals. It would be funnier than the time future mayor Ed Rendell bet a guy to throw a snowball. It would even be funnier than throwing snowballs at Santa.

How funny would it be if the fans, most of whom only came to the game because it was Bryant’s last one as a pro in Philly, only showed up to boo him? I can answer this: It would be incredibly funny. So Sixers fans should do it.

Okay, Bryant will probably be cheered tonight. But Philadelphia has long had an uneasy relationship with the best basketball player to be born in the city since Wilt Chamberlain. On the surface it is quite odd, of course. Rasheed Wallace, who went to Simon Gratz, never played for a Philly team past high school and he’s pretty well-liked by Sixers fans. Ditto Coatesville’s Rip Hamilton. But Bryant is different.

The primary catalyst of this is the 2001 NBA Finals. The Sixers had a dream season, going 56-26 and coming back from deficits in the first three rounds of the playoffs to win each one. By the time they got to the Finals against the Lakers, the Sixers were spent. They stole Game 1, missed a chance to steal Game 2 with missed free throws, and that was it. The Lakers won in 5.

And, as Bryant left the court in Game 3 — when the Lakers took a 2-1 series edge — he told a fan, “We’re going to cut their hearts out.” He did. One of the most fun seasons in Philly sports history was over, and it ended with a loss to a better team. Everyone was pretty bummed.

And Bryant became the scapegoat. And, honestly, he was pretty easy to hate. He lived on the Main Line. He went to the most famous, richest public high school in the city, Lower Merion. He did a guest spot on the ridiculous TNBC show Hang Time. He dressed hilariously. He did a rap song about himself that featured Tyra Banks. His shoes were ugly. He said lots of things that made him easy to hate.

(See? Kobe’s dad, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played for the Sixers! Why was he a Laker die-hard? If he was going to pick a team to root for, wouldn’t it have been the Bulls and Michael Jordan?)

This led up to the 2002 All-Star Game, held at the building then known as the First Union Center. Bryant played 30 minutes, the most of any player. He took 25 shots, 7 more than anyone else in the game (and 10 more than anyone else on his Western Conference squad). The guy who just helped end the Sixers’ season six months earlier was gunning for the All-Star Game MVP. It was easy for fans to boo him.

To be honest, the boos weren’t even that loud. Some people tried to rationalize it — tickets were mostly bought by rich people or given as comps for the well-connected, so it wasn’t real Philly fans booing — but that’s silly. Bryant got booed because people in Philadelphia, rightly or wrongly, don’t like him. He could maybe smooth things over with an apology, but he wouldn’t.

“In terms of an apology, I’m not apologizing for saying I’m going to come kick some ass,” Bryant told ESPN. “I’m just not going to do it. But I certainly embrace the city and I love everything that it’s taught me. So, I’m deeply appreciative of it.”

Bryant was then accused of rape by a woman he admitted having an affair with; the charges were dropped, but Bryant later settled a civil suit and publicly apologized. People have a million and one reasons to boo him.

Even last night, when Bryant showed up at Larry’s, a good cheesesteak joint near St. Joe’s, people called him a phony.

In an alternate universe, the Sixers draft Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft instead of Allen Iverson, and Bryant is one of the most beloved athletes in city history. He does famously work harder than almost anyone, a trait Philly sports fans love! And of course he’s not going to apologize for saying he’d beat the Sixers. He shouldn’t!

But that is not our fate on Earth Dimension C-137. We are stuck on with our lot in life. We are the sore losers. So let’s embrace it! It’s like the theater of pro wrestling: Kobe is the heel, and Philly fans are supposed to boo him.

Don’t let me down, Sixers fans.