LOS ANGELES — As much as the on-court product this season has been can’t-miss fodder for Los Angeles Lakers fans hungry for a winner, it was a courtside fan rooting on the Lakers’ 122-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday who stole the show.
The fan just so happened to be Kobe Bryant.
“That’s one of the greatest players to ever play this game, taking time out of his day on a Sunday,” said LeBron James, who put up 33 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. “So I’m just trying to put on a show for him and give him a reason, like, ‘OK, we might come to another game.'”
Bryant, in the building to promote “Epoca: The Tree of Ecrof,” the children’s fantasy novel he created with author Ivy Claire, played the dual role of proud Laker alumnus and proud papa, as he attended the game with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria “Gigi” Bryant.
“He’s got one of the greatest female players that’s about to come up sitting next to him in Gigi,” James added.
Hawks star Trae Young was delighted to hear that though Kobe was there for the Lakers, Gigi was there for him.
“It was crazy because he told me his daughter is a huge fan of mine, and I’m one of her favorite players,” Young said. “It’s kind of crazy because I’ll be watching her highlights, too. They pop up on my timeline.”
There was a time when the idea of Bryant in Staples Center in 2019, embracing Dwight Howard back wearing the purple and gold, would have been unheard of. But Howard was one of the first Lakers to greet the future Hall of Famer.
“Were there ever any hard feelings? It doesn’t matter,” said Howard, who has taken to wearing Bryant’s signature Nike sneakers this season because he likes how they feel. “That’s the past. This is a new age, a new day. We’re all about positive vibes.”
Kobe Bryant receives chants and an ovation from Lakers fans as he exits Staples Center near the end of the fourth quarter.
Even though it ended up being a warm encounter, Howard was surprised by Bryant’s presence at first.
“I didn’t even know who he was. Slapped me on the back of the neck