The moment Kobe Bryant entered the gym, fans serenaded him with cheers, claps, waves and, of course, the MVP chants.
It's inevitable he'd get that reception. It happens all the times at Laker games. It wasn't any different when Bryant arrived Monday at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara, as part of his efforts with Sprite in donating $25,000 toward refurbishing the facility's gym.
Yet, those M-V-P chants came with a hint of irony after Bryant lost in a three-point shooting contest. Bryant shot two-of-five from downtown, not exactly a bad clip, though they are all uncontested. His hand-selected teammates missed several of their shots too.
I thought [Kobe] was going to make every single shot in a row and we were going to lose," said Noah Burke, a junior from Santa Barbara High School. "I guess he wasn't feeling it and our team came out in the clutch."
To Bryant's credit, he showed nothing but good graces afterward by congratulating the opposing team with high-fives and well-wishes. Although Bryant wasn't made available for interviews, his on-court body language suggested he wasn't lamenting the loss. Safe to say Bryant's five NBA championships, fifth-place ranking on the NBA's all-time scoring list, an Olympic gold medal, two Finals MVPs and four All-Star MVPs affords him to have a mediocre shooting performance at a charity event.
Still, the symbolism was too hard to ignore.
Bryant's shooting woes conjured up images of the 2011-12 season in which he went only 43% from the field, his lowest shooting percentage since his second season in the NBA. The failure for Bryant's teammates at the Boys & Girls Club to hit outside shots resembled all too well how none of his Laker teammates could consistently nail down those looks from the perimeter. Even if Bryant helped keep the game close down the stretch, he couldn't bail out his ineffective teammates.
Moments earlier, Bryant gushed about how the refurbished gym would give the kids a better chance to succeed on the basketball court. He mentioned how an unnamed guidance counselor once told him how unrealistic it was to dream about being an NBA player.
"I hope you guys can come in here," Bryant said, "have a great time, play together, learn some of the life lessons I learned growing up and continue to learn ... so you can all be uncontainable and unstoppable."
The kids apparently took those words to heart and became unstoppable toward Bryant, the player who had just been showered with his praise over his greatness moments beforehand.
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