“I’ve always enjoyed playing here, and tonight was no different. I really had a great time tonight.”
Those were the words from the great Kobe Bryant, as he played his final game in Milwaukee Monday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The result of the game didn’t go as Kobe would have liked, as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 108-101, but it wasn’t about this game. It was more about taking it all in one last time in Milwaukee. Throughout the game, fans decked out in Laker apparel would chant “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” and they would erupt after every shot Bryant would hit.
From the days of facing Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, and Sam Cassell to the young Bucks of today, Bryant has enjoyed it all in Milwaukee.
“I just remember seeing blood every time I saw Ray Allen. That was a big challenge for me, I knew that was always going to be one of my toughest matchups. I just remember always trying to take that challenge. Sam Cassell, Big Dog (Glenn Robinson), they had a lot of fire power. It was close, we were one game away from having to face them in the finals.”
“There’s certain cities that have kind of a collegiate atmosphere,” Bryant said. “This has always been one of those cities with the sections and the chanting and things like that.”
Overshadowed by the overwhelming Kobe/Laker fans packing in the sold out Bradley Center, the Bucks dominated the game. Milwaukee controlled the lead early, and never let the lead go the entire game. The Bucks were up by as much as 28 in the 4th quarter and cruised their way to their seventh win in their last nine home games.
The win was highlighted by Giannis Antetokounmpo, as he recorded his first career triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. This was Milwaukee’s first triple-double since Larry Sanders recorded one in 2012.
Before the game, Bryant mentioned how Antetokounmpo is “unbelievable” and “doesn’t understand how much talent he has”.
After the game, Bryant said he talked to Antetokounmpo for “quite a bit”. Bryant explained to him what it takes to be a great player by saying, “It’s just a choice you’re going to have to make. If you want to be that great player, then you have to make those sacrifices. You have to go after it, and he has the potential to do it. He has the physical tools, the intelligence, now it’s just a matter of him believing in himself and going after it.”
Before tonight Antetokounmpo said he wasn’t even sure Bryant knew who he was. Safe to say he knows now.
“He’s one of my role models, and I always watched him when I was younger. It feels great for Kobe to acknowledge the things I did today. It feels great that Kobe is talking about me. It was his night,” said Antetokounmpo.
In his last game in the Bradley Center, Bryant finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists in 24 minutes. As the buzzer sounded he waved to the crowd as he exited, and all the Bucks players came over to hug him and thank him.
Of all the times that Kobe has played in Milwaukee, I asked Bryant if there is any moment in Milwaukee that sticks out, and that he’ll always remember from his career.
Bryant said, “Hitting that game winner (in 2009). We had a tough game, and we needed to get on track. Coming down full court… hitting that shot… that is one that I won’t forget.”
After tonight’s game, the Bucks travel to Boston to face off against the Celtics on Thursday night (2/25). The team then returns home for another contest at the BMO Harris Bradley Center against Detroit on Saturday night (2/27).