PHILADELPHIA - On the plane ride back to Los Angeles, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant planned to take a number of mementos of his weekend back in his hometown, including some cheese- steaks, some Tastykakes and a Most Valuable Player trophy from last night's NBA All-Star Game.
Alas, he'll also take with him hurt feelings from the booing he received from a vocal portion of the First Union Center crowd, apparently unwilling to acknowledge his brilliance in a game loaded with some of the world's best players.
"I was pretty upset, pretty upset. Pretty hurt. I just wanted to go out there and just play, just play hard," said Bryant, whose 31 points, five assists and five rebounds paced the Western Conference squad to a 135-120 win over the East.
"But they booed, and I still like coming home, though. I still enjoy playing in Philly, nonetheless."
In true City of Brotherly Love form, the 5,000 or so Sixers fans in attendance here among the largely neutral, corporate crowd of 19,581 booed Bryant every time he touched the ball in the second half, and even issued a South Philly cheer when the public address announcer previewed the introduction of the MVP award, in anticipation of his receiving it.
"I didn't understand it," said Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. "[It was] something beyond my understanding, I guess. He played a great game, put on a show for the fans, and that's what this game's all about."
The booing for Bryant, a native of nearby Lower Merion, Pa., and the son of former 76er Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, seemed to be a spillover from his role in the Lakers beating the Sixers last June for the league title, but it wasn't the first time he had been booed here.
"My first game in the NBA, my rookie year, I came out of high school, and they booed me a little bit, too," Bryant said. "And that really, really hurt, because it was like my homecoming, you know, coming straight out of high school. That was very, very hurtful."
Said Sixers guard Allen Iverson: "It's just something that you've got to deal with. I've played in Philly for six years, and they boo us in the first quarter if things are not going right. You have to handle it like a man and understand that everything is not always going to be peaches and cream. There's obstacles you've got to go through in life, and it's important for you to overcome them. I bet that this is something that he will learn from and be able to deal with if it happens to him again."
Bryant, who had 23 points by halftime, was sensational, mixing the inside and outside game to virtual perfection.
"He's got the whole package," said West coach Don Nelson. "He's a wonderful player in an all-star game because he guards and defends. Then he has all of these incredible moves and he's got a step and a hop, and he's got the whole works. I was really impressed with his game."
Said East coach Byron Scott: "He was head and shoulders above everybody. His purpose in this game was to play both ends. ... When he's on the court, the thing about him is he's going to guard you. He's going to guard you on the defensive end and on the offensive end, he can take you down low, and he can score from the outside. He's just one of those guys that he's a wonderful basketball player to watch play."
Bryant's play was one of a number of highlights in a game that was largely decided early, as the West, which had lost five of the previous seven, dominated from start to finish, holding the five Eastern starters, including Michael Jordan, below 10 points.
The West team, which squandered a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in last year's game in Washington, kept the ball moving, even in a game where the ball rarely touches the floor, and put the East on its heels.
The East, which never led after the 8:43 mark of the first period and trailed by 17 at halftime and 23 after three periods, went on a 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter, but the West tucked the game away with a 22-12 burst.
"You could sort of feel the momentum starting to shift a little bit, and I noticed that they started to get a little more aggressive," said Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett, who, like Duncan, had 14 points. "I went to some of my teammates and was like, 'Do y'all sense the same thing I'm sensing? Let's go ahead and try to open this thing up a little more.' "
Garnett said he feared that Jordan, in his first All-Star Game since returning from his three-year retirement, would lead a fourth-quarter comeback.
However, Jordan, whose Washington Wizards will face the Lakers and Bryant tomorrow night, didn't get off the bench in the fourth, as he led cheers, playing 22 minutes, seven more than he said he would play.
In the end, Jordan said he could empathize with Bryant's feelings about being booed in his hometown.
"He cares about the way people perceive his attitude about the game of basketball," said Jordan. "I'm definitely supportive of the way he goes out and is aggressive. I feel bad that he's embarrassed by it."
Indeed, Bryant seemed, by the end of his media session, to already be moving past last night.
"I'll use it as motivation, definitely," said Bryant. "I'm the type of person, where, if something occurs in my life that's hurtful, I'm not going to let it hurt me but for so long. I'm going to turn it around and use it as some type of motivation."
If that's the case, Sixers fans may really have something to boo if their team meets the Lakers in this year's Finals.