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Philly harsh to MVP Bryant
PHILADELPHIA -- The booing began when Kobe Bryant was introduced, continued after he made a series of game-turning plays and reached a crescendo when he was handed the All-Star MVP trophy.
Back in his hometown where the fans show him no love, Bryant received none Sunday. Instead, he was practically treated like a traitor by the notoriously harsh Philadelphia fans.
"I was pretty upset," Bryant said. "The boos were hurtful, but it's not going to ruin this day for me."
Bryant scored 31 points -- the most in an All-Star game since Michael Jordan had 40 in 1988 -- in the arena where he walked off the court last June with his second championship, leading the Western Conference over the East 135-120 on Sunday.
Bryant, who grew up in Lower Merion, Pa., and whose father, Joe, played for the 76ers, played with tremendous hustle and flashes of flair in helping the West build a big halftime lead that they never surrendered.
But he was booed nearly every he touched the ball, and when the game ended and he was given the MVP trophy, they let him have it long and loud one last time.
"What made me feel good though, at the end, was that the more people booed, some people started clapping and cheering even harder. That made me feel good," Bryant said.
Bryant became the first player to reach 30 points since Jordan did it in 1993, and he relegated Jordan, hometown hero Allen Iverson and every other All-Star into an afterthought by thoroughly dominating the game nearly every moment he was on the floor.
He also had five rebounds and five assists, shooting 12-for-25 from the field.
"What an incredible performance he put on. He was a step ahead of the best in the league, and that's hard to do because there's some great players out there," West coach Don Nelson said.
It's hard to fathom why fans in this city would turn on a player who grew up in the area and whose father was somewhat of a fan favorite when he played for the 76ers in the 1970s, but Philadelphia is a tough town where the fans can be rowdy, rude and rough on their perceived enemies. True story: They once booed Santa Claus.
Since Bryant was a part of the Lakers team that defeated the 76ers in the finals, his local roots and family history are not endearing to the mouthy masses who filled the First Union Center.
"My first game here in the NBA, my rookie year when I came out of high school, they booed me a little bit, too. That really, really hurt, because it was like my homecoming," Bryant said.
"I just look at it as them being die-hard Sixers fans I guess, being loyal to their team," he said.
Right from the get-go, Bryant showed he was onto something special.
Bryant got off to the best start of anybody, scoring eight points in the first six minutes and getting an assist by going around Jason Kidd with a deft crossover move and then feeding Tim Duncan for a dunk. Bryant also showcased some impressive ballhandling, dribbling through his legs as he came upcourt practically squatting.
Jordan was the next to reel off a series of spiffy plays, going baseline for a driving dunk, following with a fast-break layup and feeding a no-look alley-oop pass to Antoine Walker that he failed to convert.
Jordan was all alone ahead of the field a few moments later but blew a one-handed dunk, causing his Eastern teammates to rise off the bench laughing in unison. Jordan laughed off the moment, too.
Bryant led all scorers with 12 points as the West led 32-24 after one quarter.
Tracy McGrady had a spectacular dunk early in the second quarter, banging a pass to himself off the backboard, zipping past three players and slamming the ball through with such authority that the crowd didn't stop buzzing for a good 30 seconds.
McGrady scored 11 points in the quarter to keep the East in it, but Bryant had a three-point play immediately after checking back in, then made four more baskets over the final 1:47 of the quarter -- including a layup just before the halftime buzzer -- as the West closed the half with a 24-7 run for a 72-55 lead.
The East chipped away at the lead during the third quarter, but Bryant wouldn't let them get too close. He scored one basket on a putback after the ball bounced over the top of the backboard, then had another bucket off an offensive rebound with 4:20 left to restore a 20-point lead, 88-68.
Gary Payton added 18 for the West, Kevin Garnett and Duncan had 14 each.
McGrady led the East with 24.