WALTHAM, Mass. -- Before the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers met on New Year's Eve 2010, Evan Turner had teammates telling him horror stories about playing against Kobe Bryant for the first time.
Philly's veterans implored the 22-year-old rookie, "Don't look at him in his eyes! Just leave him alone!" Turner, who had crossed paths with Bryant previously, just kinda shrugged but admitted he wasn't sure what to expect.
“It’s kind of crazy because he’s the Black Mamba, so obviously you know how talented he is. And you walk in, you hear horror stories before you play him. So it’s a little different," Turner explained. "I had met him before, so when I walked on the court he said, ‘Let’s go, young fella.’ And I’m like, 'Oh my God, this ain’t the year.' You know?"
But then a funny thing happened.
"He was super nice to me," Turner said. "I had teammates that said, ‘When you go out there, don’t look at him in his eye. Don’t talk to him or anything; it’s going to give him an edge.’ Like he’s some type of pit bull or something. ... Then he came up to me and patted me on my back. He was like, ‘How you doing? How’s your mom?’ I was like, ‘She’s all right.'"
Bryant went on to score 33 points as the defending champion Lakers posted a 102-98 triumph that night. With Bryant set to visit Boston for the final time Wednesday night, Turner reflected Tuesday on the legend of Kobe.
"He’s always been super nice and a great competitor. He always came over and gave me positive encouragement, complimented me and stuff like that," Turner said. "And sometimes he used to say stuff about my game, how I developed and stuff. It shocked the hell out of me, you know what I’m saying?"
Turner, a Chicago native, has stressed that Michael Jordan was his idol growing up but that Bryant was likely a close second after taking the NBA torch when Jordan retired. While Turner offered high praise for Bryant ("obviously he was unreal") he did keep it light while bombarded with multiple questions about Bryant's last visit to Boston.
Like when Turner was asked if he expected Bryant to get a loud ovation at Wednesday's game.
"It will probably be for me -- for real, for real," joked Turner. "I probably just got done taking off my snaps and people will probably go crazy. So you can say it’s for Kobe, but it will probably deep down be for me. So it’s the same thing."
"I’ve only coached against him once in two years, but as a fan from afar of the game of basketball and now, obviously, learning about even more so the rivalry of being a part of this organization, and then certainly his impact on it, I’ve got nothing but great respect for him and the whole [Lakers] organization," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "Certainly, our focus can’t be on necessarily him, it’s gotta be on us, it’s gotta be on us playing well, it’s gotta be on us getting better. But I don’t think there’s any question that all of our players respect and appreciate all that he’s accomplished as a player."
Celtics guard Avery Bradley said he makes it a point to seek out players like Bryant and let them know how they've impacted him as a player.
"There’s so many things I’m pretty sure everyone can say about him. He’s just an amazing player," Bradley said. "I’m happy I got a chance to even be on the same court as him. I just wish the best for him. I know he’s had an amazing career. He’s definitely been one of the reasons I play this game, and I respect him so much and appreciate everything he’s brought to the game."
Asked whether he expects a heated rival like Bryant to get an ovation Wednesday at TD Garden, Bradley said, "I’m pretty sure everybody will be applauding for Kobe when he’s in the building [Wednesday], even security."