Before Thursday night, Kobe Bryant had only returned to Staples Center for a Los Angeles Lakers game one time since he retired, and that was for his jersey retirement ceremony.
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Now that the Lakers are back in playoff contention, it might be safe to presume Bryant can be expected to show his face around the house that he built more often. That began in the Lakers’ win over the Denver Nuggets when he was sitting courtside alongside general manager Rob Pelinka to check out LeBron James in the purple and gold for the first time.
It is safe to say that Bryant liked what he saw from the team, but after the game, all of the talk in the locker room from the players was about Bryant watching them play.
Lonzo Ball is used to the spotlight being on him, but when Bryant is in the building it is a whole different story and Ball took notice. “It’s always special when Kobe comes. He’s a Laker legend. Glad we got the win for him,” Ball said. “I try not to look at the stands too much, but I definitely noticed when they put him on the screen and everybody stands up.”
Kyle Kuzma also noticed that the energy felt a little bit different with the legend in the building. “He was in attendance, so I tried to have a good game,” Kuzma admitted. “Yeah, he walked in and everybody was screaming. It’s a little different buzz.”
For many players, it may be a bit difficult to focus on the task at hand when a lot of the attention in the arena is on Bryant. Josh Hart is not one of those people though.
“I noticed him. But at the end of the day, I’m focused on 94 by 50 feet,” Hart explained. “Now that the game is over, I’m in the locker room, it’s cool. When we’re in the game, I’m focused on my teammates and what I can do to help win.”
Lance Stephenson had one of his best games as a member of the Lakers, hitting two big 3-pointers down the stretch and finishing with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists off the bench.
He also got a chance to meet one of his favorite players growing up after the game, so it was a good night for Stephenson. “It’s a blessing for him to be at the game. That’s one of my favorite players,” Stephenson said. “He was like, ‘Good game,’ after the game, so I was a little hype.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton was a former teammate of Bryant’s, winning two championships together. He was happy to see his close friend and believes it helped fuel his team.
“I think everyone gets excited when Kobe is around. Us as a staff, players, anyone that’s part of the Lakers family, the fans,” said Walton. “He’s a huge part of this organization, so when he’s in the building I think it brings a little more.”
Bryant has previously said that he does not want to get involved in the organization in the form of an official position, but perhaps he will change his mind after seeing how well they played on Thursday night and how bright the future is for the entire Lakers organization.