Skip to content

Kobe says he was ‘fighting back tears’ following ovation from Staples Center crowd after surgery

Oct 17, 2013, 12:29 AM EDT

kobe crutches game 4 ovation

The vast majority of days that I work in arenas covering live events, I am not subjected to filing a game story on deadline. It’s by far the worst part of the industry, and it’s what many of the best writers covering the NBA face on a daily basis out of necessity as part of their gigs working for newspapers around the country.

The online model is quite different, and the details will be spared here and saved for another time. But immediacy is rarely required unless something monumental occurs, so usually the first story can wait for some depth, context, and texture from the players involved speaking in post-game locker rooms long after the final buzzer has sounded.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 28, however, there was no reason to wait. The Lakers were getting predictably shellacked in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Spurs, and the game was effectively over early in the second half. The brief initial story was done before the final buzzer, and only a couple of minor details needed to be included for the sake of accuracy.

The first was Dwight Howard intentionally getting ejected in a blowout of an elimination game, in what at the time appeared to be (and ultimately was) his last in a Lakers uniform. That moment was a microcosm of how he handled his entire season in Los Angeles, so it was somewhat fitting that he ultimately chose to bail on his teammates before the game was officially finished.

But there was a more important moment following Dwight’s ejection, and one that will resonate much longer than Howard’s ill-fated stint in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant emerged from the locker room on crutches after Howard had departed, early in the third quarter with the Lakers down by 30-plus points and the game having already been decided.

It was his first appearance since undergoing surgery to repair the torn Achilles that ended his season, and the Staples Center fans responded with a loud and passionate greeting that drowned out the disappointing basketball being played by what was left of their team on the floor below. 

Bryant was affected by the emotional outpouring, as detailed in a fantastic piece by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

As he limps out, center Dwight Howard cruises in. “What the f— is going on?” Bryant asks a trainer. “Dwight got ejected,” he is informed. In the retelling, Bryant waits eight seconds to utter another word, looking as if he might literally bite his tongue. “Sports have a funny way of doing s— like that,” he says.

L.A. is about to be swept and Howard is about to leave for Houston, where he will forfeit $30 million and avoid discomfort. But Bryant is the rare modern athlete whose presence can transcend playoff results and free-agent decisions. Sometimes, just seeing him is enough. “The long year, the injuries, the Shaq stuff, the Phil stuff, it all came to a head when I walked out to the bench,” says Bryant, who was serenaded with a standing ovation and MVP chants. “It was the first time I ever felt that kind of love from a crowd. Oh, my God, I was fighting back the tears.”

It could be argued that Bryant has received that kind of love from the hometown faithful plenty of times over the 17 years he’s played in Los Angeles. But every time previously, it was in response to his on-court heroics, so in his mind, the adulation was deserved.

Only in this rarest of moments of vulnerability was Bryant truly moved by the reception he received.

Latest Posts
  1. Pistons waive Hasheem Thabeet

    Oct 20, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT

    Detroit Pistons Media Day Detroit Pistons Media Day

    Detroit also cuts Brian Cook, Josh Bostic and Lorenzo Brown

  2. Lakers waive Jeremy Tyler, who’s China-bound

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Los Angeles Lakers Media Day

    Door even more open for Ronnie Price and Wayne Ellington to make roster

  3. LeBron James reveals (?) his recruiting pitch

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day Getty Images

    How did LeBron get Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones to join the Cavaliers?

  4. Five favorites to win NBA 2014-15 MVP

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 1 Getty Images

    Smart money should go on LeBron James, but there will be serious challengers.

  5. ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: San Antonio Spurs

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Game Five Getty Images

    If they can stay a step ahead of father time the Spurs are the bar to clear to win an NBA title.

  6. 67RIEFNS No. 22: Disappointing second-year players looking for redemption

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    2013 NBA Draft Lottery 2013 NBA Draft Lottery

    Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, C.J. McCollum among those looking to bounce back after underwhelming rookie years

  7. Joakim Noah wants Tom Thibodeau to do yoga with him

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptq2njewnzjmmgrhmwvjyjm2mtnjzju3ymqwzgm4zmmy AP

    Tom Thibodeau is not the yoga type.

  8. Cavs coach David Blatt will treat Monday’s preseason minutes like the regular season

    Oct 19, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    LeBron James LeBron James

    LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will take the floor together for the first time since the preseason opener.

  9. NBA’s 44-minute game clocks in at under 2 hours, players barely notice (VIDEO)

    Oct 19, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT

    NETS V CELTICS NETS V CELTICS

    Experimental preseason game between Nets and Celtics took place Sunday.

  10. Nets coach Hollins on 44-minute game: ‘The change will be for the guys who don’t start’

    Oct 19, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Brooklyn Nets v Sacramento Kings - NBA Global Games Beijing Getty Images

    Hollins won’t adjust starters minutes as he coaches the Nets during the experimental game Sunday.

  11. Gloria James narrates LeBron’s latest Beats commercial

    Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    LeBron James LeBron James

    “Akron” celebrates James’ homecoming.

Featured video

What are impacts of NBA's new TV deal?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. B. Beal (3736)
  2. L. James (3603)
  3. D. Rose (3601)
  4. J. Lin (3463)
  5. N. Noel (3441)