By Tommy Fradenburg
Whether it was playing pick-up in the driveway or simply throwing a ball of paper into a trashcan, a generation of boys and girls shouted that name as they tried to throw any ball in any basket.
And on Tuesday night Philadelphia 76er’s center Joel Embiid, who wore number 24 to honor the late Kobe Bryant, poured in 24 points in his early return from a hand injury on the way to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors.
Even cooler? His final bucket of the game was a patented Kobe Bryant turn around fadeaway jumper that he drained with deceptive ease, and he shouted the name of his childhood hero as it went down.
— Sixers Nation (@SixersNationCP) January 29, 2020
The seven-foot, 280-pound Cameroonian had a special bond with Bryant. Growing up in Africa he played volleyball until the year 2010. Then he watched the 2010 NBA Finals, when Kobe averaged 28.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game to beat the Boston Celtics.
“That was the turning point in my life,” Embiid said after the game. “It was watching Kobe. After watching, I just wanted to be like him.”
Embiid made sure to get permission from former Sixers Hall of Famer Bobby Jones, whose number is retired in Philadelphia.
Embiid’s jersey and scoring effort were just a couple of many ways players honored Bryant as all of the Sixers players wore either eight or 24 jerseys in warm-ups, and Ben Simmons wrote “Mamba Forever,” and “RIP Gigi” on his cleats.
While the death of Bryant has shook the entire NBA community, the his hometown of Philadelphia (where he won the 1996 AAAA state title at Lower Merion High School before moving on to the NBA) has been hit particularly hard. Pregame the 76ers held a ceremony displaying his number 33 jersey at center court and observing a 33-second moment of silence. They then rang a bell nine times, once for each victim that perished in the crash.
A winning tribute.#PhilaUnite
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 29, 2020
Finally, they skipped the introductions of the starting lineups and instead played a tribute video featuring footage from one of his previous games there.
Despite the solemn mood the game had to be played, and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr admitted afterwards the atmosphere had an effect.
“Once both teams got going, then it felt like a regular game again, but it took a little while.”
The 10-win Warriors came in as underdogs to the 76ers, who have lost just two home games this season. But led by 28 points from DeAngelo Russell and 20 from Glenn Robinson III, the Warriors hung with the Sixers through the first three quarters of the game trailing just 86-82.
But a 9-0 run over the first four plus minutes of the fourth quarter saw the gap widen to 95-82. Four minutes later it ballooned to 16.
Overall it was a strong display from Philadelphia’s big men. Along with Embiid’s 24 points and 10 rebounds, Al Horford nearly contributed a triple double (12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists).
Philadelphia moves to 22-2 at home this season, while the Warriors fall to just 3-21 on the road. They will look to pick up their fourth road win of the year on Thursday at the Boston Celtics, while the 76ers will head to Atlanta to play the Hawks the same day.