Because the Pelicans (then the Hornets) didn't move to New Orleans until the 2002-03 season, Bryant was already a three-time champion when he made his regular-season debut in the city. In that initial Jan. 15 2003 game, Bryant scored 36 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 90-82 victory over a Hornets team led by Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. Coming off the bench for the Hornets in that game was Elden Campbell, who'd been Bryant's teammate in his first 2+ seasons in the league.
The retiring Lakers legend has played 18 regular-season games in the Big Easy, topping the 30-point mark 10 times. His career high on New Orleans' court is 50 points, done on March 23, 2007, in a 111-105 win. Bryant was a perfect 16-for-16 from the line that night, one of just five times in his career he's attempted at least 16 free throws in a game and shot 100 percent.
Perhaps a bit infamously, New Orleans was also where Bryant's 2014-15 season came to a premature end, when he suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Bryant actually tried to play through the injury that night, taking shots with his left hand, before finally being convinced by trainer Gary Vitti and coach Byron Scott to shut it down.
Bryant faced New Orleans only once in a playoff series, leading the Lakers to a 4-2 first-round series win over the then-Hornets in 2011. In that series, Los Angeles won two of its three games in New Orleans, including a clinching Game 6, when Bryant scored 24 points to equal his jersey number.
The five-time champion was also selected to play in the two All-Star games New Orleans has hosted, but injuries got in the way on both occasions. In 2008, an MRI before the game revealed Bryant had a torn ligament in his pinkie. However, the league ruled that because he'd played the last regular-season game before the break, Bryant had to play in the All-Star game. So he started, played three minutes, didn't take a shot, and sat out the rest of the game. In 2014, Bryant was again voted in as a starter, despite having played just six games. And when the game rolled around, he was already out for the season, coincidentally enabling New Orleans star Anthony Davis to be added to the roster.
Entering Friday, Bryant is officially 32-14 against the New Orleans franchise including the playoffs, but that doesn't include the team's time in Charlotte. That part of the Pelicans' history was returned to the current Charlotte Hornets franchise when they changed their name from the Bobcats in 2014. That means that technically this is not Bryant's final game against the franchise that drafted him, though these Pelicans can trace their roots back to that Hornets team that picked Bryant 13th overall in 1996 before trading him to the Lakers.