Editor’s note: On Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, Kobe Bryant played his last game at The Palace of Auburn hills against the Detroit Pistons. Here’s then-Pistons beat writer Terry Foster’s report from that night.
Auburn Hills — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy usually stands for his postgame news conference. But he knew something was up when he saw a table laced in black cloth and a black leather chair in front of a black curtain.
“This is not for me,” he joked “This is for Kobe Brant.”
He was right. It was a Kobe night even though the Lakers superstar turned in one of his worse performances of the season during the Pistons’ 111-91 laugher at The Palace Sunday night.
Fans came dressed in Lakers purple and gold, in hopes of witnessing one final brilliant flash of the past from Bryant. Fans chanted his name and screamed words of support for his every move.
Instead of brilliant Kobe they witnessed broken-down and sick Kobe, who came down with a stomach virus prior to the game.
He felt the love even from a rousing introduction.
“I think we hated each other for so long,” Bryant said of the love he receives in Detroit. “I think there is a mutual admiration that comes from that. When you have an opponent that you go up against, neither one backs down. You challenge and bring out the best in each other. For years and for years when the time comes to say goodbye, you are very appreciative.”
Bryant bricked his first seven shots and finished with five points and three rebounds while shooting 2-for-15 from the field. It was his second-lowest scoring total of the season.
Every time Bryant rose to shoot his followers rose with him. But they mostly sat down in disappointment.
This was Bryant’s final visit. He announced his retirement about a week ago and this was easily his worst performance during his farewell tour. One time, Bryant lined up Ersan Ilyasova for a jumper and the place erupted, believing this was his chance to finally score. However, he missed a short jumper.
Finally, Bryant hit a 3-point jumper over Marcus Morris with 7:37 remaining in the third period — his first points of the game. The shot triggered the loudest cheer of the night, followed by chants of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”
No one cared that he hasn’t had a decent season in three years. This was all about honoring one of the greatest players of all time.
“It’s been fun to be able to get that reaction,” Bryant said. “Tonight was crazy. You get chanted here in Detroit. It’s a beautiful feeling. It is something I thought I would never see.”
Bryant caught a stomach virus sometime during this eight-city tour which concludes Dec. 12 in Houston. Being ill did not help. However, playing 20 years of ball at the age of 37 seems to have caught up with him. But Bryant says he has no regrets after winning five NBA titles and moving up to third on the NBA all-time scoring list.
Fans did not get to see the fluid Bryant who used to glide through the Pistons defense and rise for silky smooth jumpers.
Instead of seeing vintage Kobe, the sold-out house got a glimpse of what they hope will be the team of the future.
The Pistons (12-9) won their fourth straight game, which is their longest winning streak of the season. The Lakers (3-17) dropped their ninth game in the last 10.
Reggie Jackson (20 points, six assists) and Andre Drummond (18 points, 15 rebounds) ran the pick-and-roll to perfection, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope attacked the paint more effectively and finished with 22 points and four steals.
There was also a surprising nine points and 13 rebounds from Anthony Tolliver.
“We wanted to show (fans) a team that is hungry,” said Jackson. “Just a team that’s trying to get better each and every day and a team that just wants to be there. It’s a long process but at some point we would love to be called contenders.”
Slay excited to meet star
Lions defensive back Darius Slay’s eyes lit up when Bryant finally emerged from the Lakers dressing room following the Pistons’ victory.
He was granted back-room access to have his Lions jersey signed by Bryant.
“It was great to see him out here to see him play in person and to meet him,” Slay said.
“His effort is great. … He approaches the game as a professional and that is what I am trying to do.”
Terry Foster is a retired Detroit News sportswriter.