Perhaps Kobe Bryant’s most iconic NYC moment happened on a rainy summer day on 155th Street in Harlem back in 2002.
That’s when the then-23-year-old, number eight wearing Black Mamba laced up and put on a show at Harlem’s famed Holcombe Rucker Park — coming off his three-peat championship run with the Los Angeles Lakers.
For many Harlemites and basketball fans, Bryant displayed the most electric game they had ever witnessed; even the late NBA legend spoke about Rucker’s energy charged from the NYC crowd.
“The memory I’ll definitely take away is the people down there at the game watching…and interacting with them,” Bryant said in an interview following his Rucker game in which Kobe sported an “Entertainers” jersey.
“Having a good time with them, talking trash,” he continued.
Bryant being trash talked during an Entertainers Basketball Classic game is pretty much the most authentic New York experience imaginable — but the Harlem crowd showed plenty of love to the hype-man proclaimed “Lord of The Rings.”
Actually, that was only the start of the in-game nicknames given to Bryant by the MC Jeffery “Hannibal” Banks, who was announcing the game.
Then came Kobe-wan Kenobi, The Final Frontier, Junkyard Dog, and so many more names for the to-be-hall of famer.
“That’s my man right there,” Bryant said, noting that the names Hannibal and others donned were “very, very creative.”
Due to the rain, Bryant’s performance ended prematurely; though not before an afternoon of 15 points, 7 assists, and 7 boards on the Rucker concrete.
Meanwhile, the EBC immediately payed homage to Bryant for not only his 2002 performance but his career as a whole shortly after the sad news broke yesterday.
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Bryant returned to Rucker Park some years later during the World Basketball Festival in 2010, this time to teach the youth rather than crossing up some unlucky few.
“It’s the basketball knowledge and the passion that people have in the city,” Bryant said on the Rucker hardwood when asked about what’s made New York so special to him.
“I think it’s beautiful,” he continued while talking about the global expansion of the sport.
It was those two summer days that inspired a generation of NYC basketball, many of whom began playing the sport because of Bryant and many who will continue to in his legacy.