Kobe Bryant's farewell tour returns for a poignant stop in Portland on Saturday night. Including Portland, Bryant only has 13 more occasions where he will bid farewell to a city one last time, and Portland played a valuable role in Bryant's early success.
Trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal appeared on their way to yet another unsuccessful postseason run—their fourth playoff run together.
However, the Lakers combined to lead a furious rally that forever changed history. Portland would only score 13 points over the vital final 12 minutes, as LA shut down the Blazers. The memorable moment that announced the arrival of the "Shaq and Kobe" dynasty would come with about 40 seconds on the clock. LA had already taken a four-point lead when Bryant brought the ball up the court, methodically drove to suck in the defense, and threw up a lob for O'Neal.
Leading by six points with roughly 40 seconds remaining and Staples Center in an untamed frenzy, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and the Portland Trail Blazers didn't have a prayer of coming back.
Bryant and the Lakers would go on to beat Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in six games to claim the 2000 NBA championship. Bryant would win four more titles, of course, but who knows how history would have changed had the Lakers had not turned up the heat on the Blazers?
On Saturday, Bryant comes in as a 37-year-old on his last legs of an incredible NBA career, and the Blazers expect to honor one of their fiercest rivals. In the past, Portland has been one of the classiest of organizations in matters like these, and a look back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's farewell ceremony should provide a worthwhile example.
However, Portland's relationship with Bryant is not the same as its relationship with Abdul-Jabbar, so the fans may not be nearly as gracious on Saturday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers tip-off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
Notes: Larry Nance Jr. is out with a sore knee per Mark Medina of the LA Daily News.