PORTLAND, Ore. -- The introduction was simple -- just Kobe Bryant's name, jersey number, position, height and where he played before reaching the NBA, all recited in a monotone voice by the public-address announcer, as if Saturday were normal.
In other words, it was an introduction unlike those delivered at any other road arena where Bryant has made a final stop thus far during his farewell tour.
At other arenas, there have been tribute videos and his accolades have been rattled off amid thunderous applause. There have been several lavish gifts, too.
But Saturday was different, more muted, almost symbolic of the bad blood between these teams that exists in part because of the key matchups when Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers prevailed, namely in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
Indeed, each time Bryant touched the ball during his final game in Portland on Saturday, boos rained down, which, truth be told, he enjoyed, as they remind him of his past, of the epic contests between these two clubs throughout his 20 NBA years.
“That’s what it’s been my entire career,” Bryant said of the boos after a 121-103 loss to the Trail Blazers at Moda Center. “Why would I want it to be any different? Why would the fans want it to be different? That’s the way it’s been. You want to go out the way [you came in].”
At the end of the game, though, after he finished with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting in nearly 25 minutes, Bryant left the court to cheers and an ovation, the same way he has left every court in every road arena he has played his last game in this season.
“I think the big difference is at the end of the game -- the chants, the mutual respect,” Bryant said. “It’s like, you can actually show it now because you know there’s no coming back. That’s the difference. The boos, every time I touch it, I absolutely love it.
“I had one fan courtside [say], ‘Man, I’m going to miss hating you.’ [I said], ‘Thank you, I’m going to miss loving the fact that you hate me.’”
Bryant also wore a plaid suit to the game as a “subtle tribute” to legendary Trail Blazers coach Dr. Jack Ramsay.
“Aside from the team performance [Saturday], it was a blast to be here,” Bryant said. “I have so many memories here. Most of the time I ended up on the losing side of the things in the regular season, but so many great memories here with the fans and playoff battles. I just try to take it all in as much as possible and glance around.”
He recalled that 2000 playoff series and a critical block in a nail-biting win.
“I was still a baby [then],” Bryant said with a laugh. ”I was 21, 22 years old. I had the afro. I could grow the afro. That was cool. That time was a really, really good time.”
In that particular series, the Lakers led 3-1, but the Trail Blazers charged back, forcing Game 7. The Lakers would go on to win that series, and Bryant would win his first championship after beating the Indiana Pacers.
But in that epic series against the loaded Trail Blazers, Bryant recalled a shift and, specifically, the words of former Lakers assistant coach Tex Winters.
“Tex used to say all the time, ‘Everything turns on a trifle,’” Bryant said. “That’s been something that’s always stuck with me. Game 7, there were a couple of plays that turned the tide. It’s such a game of emotion. It doesn’t matter what the score is. If there’s a flip in the momentum of the game, then all of the sudden things become harder for one team or the other. Routine plays become harder to make. We were able to flip that switch, and once that happened, it became very, very difficult for them to overcome that. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have.”
On Saturday, Bryant praised young Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who torched the Lakers. Lillard scored 36, and McCollum added 28.
Their future, Bryant said, is “whatever they want it to be. Truly, it’s whatever they want it to be. They have so much talent, so much potential and they’re both extremely hard workers and very curious about the game.”
Bryant was asked if he has any off-the-court memories of Portland -- and he did.
“I used to go for walks a lot here in Portland, even while it was raining,” he said. “It’s an extremely beautiful city. I used to go walking around quite a bit. During playoffs, I’m not a big sleeper, so at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, I’d just go for a walk and just take it all in.”