PHILADELPHIA -- Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia but has had a strained relationship with his hometown ever since he said he wanted to "cut their hearts out" when the Lakers played the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals.
The fans have never let him forget it, infamously booing Bryant following the 2002 NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia when he received the MVP trophy at center court.
Despite the backlash he's received, Bryant still enjoys the chance to return to Philadelphia.
"I think the older I get, the more I appreciate coming back here and playing," Bryant said Monday before the Lakers lost 95-90 to the 76ers.
A reporter told Bryant that a caller on a local sports radio station said Monday that if Bryant would apologize for his remarks made before the Lakers went on to beat the Allen Iverson-led Sixers 4-1 in the Finals, then Philadelphia would embrace their native son again.
"In terms of an apology, I'm not apologizing for saying I'm going to come kick some ass," Bryant said after flashing a wide grin when hearing the comment. "I'm just not going to do it. But I certainly embrace the city and I love everything that it's taught me. So, I'm deeply appreciative of it."
Bryant, 33, is relishing the chance to play in Philadelphia again because as a 16-year veteran, he doesn't know how many more chances he'll get to do it.
"It's not many," Bryant said after the Lakers' game against the Utah Jazz on Saturday. "You can definitely count them on one hand."
"It has a great deal of significance, I think more now, than I used to feel when I would come back here when I was 21-22 because I don't know how many more times I'll be playing in front of Philadelphia fans at this stage of my career," Bryant added Monday. "So, it becomes a little bit more important."
Bryant, who attended Lower Merion High School located in the suburbs about 20 minutes west of Philadelphia, said his favorite memories of Philly came during his high school years.
"(It was) before all the hoopla," Bryant said. "That's always the thing that sticks out to me. Just being Kobe."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.