ANAHEIM, Calif. -- His family was waiting patiently down the hall. And as usual, after all the postgame icing and treatments he must go through to keep his 34-year-old body in the kind of shape it needs to be in for him to still be him, Kobe Bryant was one of the last Lakers to leave the locker room after Tuesday night's 114-80 loss to the Utah Jazz.
But Bryant had a stop to make before leaving the Honda Center and heading home to nearby Newport Beach.
Longtime referee Greg Willard, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, had just taken the court and officiated the game even as his body showed the ravages of the pernicious disease.
The Lakers had already sent the game ball to the referees' locker room. Several had shook Willard's hand after the game. Bryant stopped by for a visit on his way out.
"He's an extremely good ref," Bryant said of Willard, 53. "He doesn't hold grudges. He just makes the call in front of him.
"Honestly, tonight I wanted him to T me up for old time's sake. I didn't want him to have any kind of special night. I wanted it to be just like it's always been. I wanted to drop a couple F-bombs to him.
"I wanted it to be like how it's always been. That's the best way. "
In the second quarter, Bryant almost made that happen when Willard called him for a questionable hand-check foul. He turned and glared at Willard, who stood stone-faced. He said something colorful to him that might have earned him a technical foul, but obviously didn't go far enough. As good referees do in such situations, Willard walked away and ran down the court.
And the game went on.