Bryant showed an affinity for Boston sports in an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan before the Lakers got ready to play the Celtics on Thursday night. He shared the distaste he had for the Celtics when he was brought in for a workout in 1996, but he also talked about the close ties he has with some of Boston’s biggest stars. Whether it be Rajon Rondo, to whom Bryant wished a fast recovery, or Paul Pierce, with whom he’s tangled and talked trash many times, Bryant had respect for his foes on the C’s.
But his favorite Boston sports figures by far are with the Patriots.
In what Bryant said was “one of the lowest moments of my career,” he recalled losing the 2008 NBA Finals at TD Garden, when the Celtics routed the Lakers 131-92. At that point, Bryant had only ever won a championship with Shaquille O’Neal, and he said he was “burning with frustration” as the clock ticked down and he wondered whether he’d ever again have the teammates he needed to win a title.
“I look over, and Bill Belichick is walking toward me,” Bryant said. “I had never met him. Never spoken to him. He had courtside seats across from our bench, and with 20 seconds left in the game, he came over and said, ‘Don’t you worry about this. I know what you are going through. We just lost a tough one ourselves [to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII]. Just bounce back. Be ready next year.’”
Bryant said he and Belichick have spoken since, with Belichick even coming to the Lakers’ locker room to talk coaching.
“I thought it was really cool,” Bryant said. “Respect across our professions.”
But if Bryant had to choose a member of the Patriots to see at Thursday night’s Lakers-Celtics game, it wouldn’t necessarily be Belichick. Bryant said he was hoping Rob Gronkowski would show up and share some of the good times.
And Bryant was sticking to his line that he never wants to be a Celtic, and that he thinks his Lakers teammates leave him better prepared for a title run. He wouldn’t even switch his football rooting allegiances to Boston.
“I’m an Eagles fan, for better or for worse,” he said. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that this Chip Kelly dude will work out.”
Sounds about right, seeing as some people think Kelly is waiting to take over in New England once Belichick leaves.
Come on, Kobe. Just say you love Boston.