Can you believe that Kobe Bryant's favorite color is green? That sounds blasphemous coming from a player that has spent his entire career in purple and gold, but as the face of the Lakers prepares to make his final visit to Boston this week he can't help but reminisce about the classic battles he has fought against those in Celtics green.
The Celtics and Lakers have a rivalry that dates back to the days of Bill Russell squaring off one last time against Wilt Chamberlain in the Big Dipper's first season in Los Angeles. Bryant has his own chapter in this decades long story, having lost to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, only to extract his revenge in a 2010 rematch.
As Bryant continues his retirement tour he readily acknowledges that his last trip to the TD Garden will be special.
"I'm bringing my family down, because my kids have never been to Boston," Bryant told reporters on Monday following his team's loss in Charlotte. "They've never even been to Boston. I'm looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit. And then just experience the green.
"It's just a different green. I want them to be able to see that."
It's clear that Kobe has a lot of respect for the franchise that has been an arch-nemesis in his legendary career and that respect is given in return from the players on this young Celtics squad, many of whom grew up idolizing Bryant.
"He's the best player to every play the game of basketball in my era. It's going to be probably a little emotional for him. This is one of the most famous arenas," Isaiah Thomas told reporters after the Celtics win over the New York Knicks on Sunday.
There are no players left on this Celtics roster that went up against Kobe's Lakers in those epic Finals matchups. When Bryant returns to Boston this time he won't be staring down Paul Pierce, hearing Kevin Garnett barking in his ear or have to worry about losing Ray Allen around a screen for a wide open three. Rajon Rondo, the last remaining member of those Finals teams, was shipped out of town last December. This time when he comes here he won't find fellow future Hall of Famers, but instead a young and hungry squad wearing the green.
As much as some of these young Celtics want to be in awe of Bryant, when they step on the court with him they are well aware that the priority is winning.
"It's going to suck to see him go," says Thomas, who grew up a Lakers fan. "But, at the same time, if it was the other way around, he wouldn't care if it was your last game, so we gotta try to get the win and don't let him have a big game."
Thomas couldn't help but grin when he playfully commented about how Kobe would never put the sentimentality of an opponent's last game over his desire to win, but he's not wrong. That's part of what has made Kobe such a great villain throughout his career, which often results in him being booed on road trips. He thrives on it and relishes the opportunity to send the opponent's crowd home disappointed.
Which makes this year all the more difficult for him, as Bryant has been met with a warm reception from crowds that may be seeing him play for the last time.
"Yeah, it was just so natural to me for so many years," Bryant said of being viewed as a villain. "It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I'm glad they didn't do this many, many years ago, because it's like Kryptonite. It would've taken all my energy and all my strength, because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes to best way to beat the villain is to give him a hug."
Celtics players can't be caught up in the sentimental aspect of the game when the Lakers come to town on Wednesday. Their focus needs to be on extending their season-high four-game win streak in order to keep up in a tightly contested race in the Eastern Conference.
It will be interesting to see how Celtics fans greet Bryant after so many years of treating him as a villain. Love him or hate him, you have to respect his game. The TD Garden crowd should shower him with cheers when he steps out onto the parquet floor for the last time. Partly because he deserves that honor after all he's accomplished in his storied career.
The other part? Because treating him like a hero instead of a villain might just throw him off his game and helps us get a win.