BOSTON — The crowd rose to their feet at his presence. The Boston Celtics presented the Lakers’ star player with a gift and praised his greatness. For at least a moment, all the hatred between the Celtics and Lakers went away.
Will this mark the reception Kobe Bryant receives when the Lakers (5-27) visit the Boston Celtics (18-13) on Wednesday for what will represent his last game at the Garden? Perhaps. But it certainly described the setting for Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his last game here on Dec. 16, 1988.
Then, the Celtics fans gave Abdul-Jabbar a 95-second standing ovation. Celtics president Red Auerbach then presented Abdul-Jabbar with a mounted framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor.
“How can I get mad at him now?” Auerbach said. “I’ve always said Boston fans were the greatest in the world. And I’m going to repeat it, because he’s the enemy. And yet, what he’s done for the game is unparalleled.”
Nearly 27 years later, it resonates with Lakers coach and former Showtime teammate Byron Scott how the Celtics fans appreciated Jabbar for winning six NBA championships and becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer.
“I thought it was great,” Scott said following morning shootaround on Wednesday at the Garden. “For me going through that with Kareem and knowing how the fans were every time we came here, I was a little surprised they showed that type of love. But after all the years of being here and playing in this league and knowing how knowledgeable they are about the game of basketball, it didn’t surprise me.”
The Lakers anticipate Bryant will receive a similar type of reception for contributions to his five NBA championships and third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. But unlike Abdul-Jabbar, Bryant has not received any public displays of gifts at his request. Instead, Bryant has mostly been greeted with video tributes.
Will the Celtics show Bryant a video tribute that includes his 2010 NBA championship against the Celtics, or his five regular-season games against him where he scored at least 40 points?
Whatever happens, Scott anticipates any emotional sentiments will soon evaporate once Bryant starts playing.
“Boston fans are very knowledgeable about the game and have a lot of respect for the game of basketball,” Scott said. “But they are true, blue Celtics fans. So when you come in here, they might give you a standing ovation to start the game. But at the beginning of the game when it starts, they don’t like you.”