Dark needs light, war needs peace, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed Kobe Bryant.
He was a villain to just about every NBA franchise outside of Los Angeles, but the animus between the Lakers' star shooting guard and the city of Portland always felt particularly intense. For a small-market, hard-luck team like the Blazers, he was the perfect foil—a willful heel who lived to rip his opponents' hearts out. It was a relationship best summed up by a fan during Bryant's final game in Portland, before his 2016 retirement: "Man, I'm going to miss hating you."
On Jan. 26, Bryant and eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, were killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California. He was 41 years old. The Blazers lit Moda Center in purple and gold: Lakers colors. On Jan. 31, Portland will be the opponent for the Lakers' first home game since Bryant's death.
Bryant leaves behind a difficult legacy. Here, though, we'll keep it simple and recall six times Kobe and the Blazers intertwined during his career.
June 3, 2000: The Lob.
One team's highlight is another's enduring nightmare, and the image of Kobe lobbing to a wide-eyed Shaq to complete the Lakers' 16-point comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 7 to win the Western Conference finals still keeps many Blazers fans up at night. Every time Kobe came back to Portland, it felt like a playoff game, as if fans were continually replaying the moment in hopes of changing it.
March 16, 2007: Kobe scores 65 against the Blazers.
The second-highest scoring outburst of Kobe's career came in an overtime win against Brandon Roy and a rookie LaMarcus Aldridge at Staples Center. "He lit us up," Nate McMillan, then the Blazers' coach, recalled Jan. 26. "He really became like Michael [Jordan]."
Oct. 23, 2010: Kobe praises Brandon Roy.
When asked on a radio show to name the toughest player to guard in the Western Conference, Kobe didn't hesitate: "Roy. 365 days, seven days a week." It was a high compliment at the time, and even greater in retrospect.
Nov. 29, 2015: Kobe retires—and calls out an obscure Blazer.
A day after announcing his retirement—via poem—Kobe held a press conference and talked about being a graying elder. "I remember playing Portland here, and a kid from the bench said something to me: 'Hey, we're gonna beat you guys tonight!'" It was Luis Montero, then 22 years old and warming the bench. "I looked at him and said, 'I've got one rule: If you weren't born when I started playing, you can't talk trash,'" Bryant continued. "And he just looked and [said], 'Yes sir.'"
Jan. 23, 2016: A Blazers blowout sends Kobe after his teammates’ shoes.
By his last season, Bryant wasn't the same player—but he remained the same hardass. On Twitter, former teammate Lou Williams recalled how a bad loss in Portland sent Bryant over the edge: "He took everybody Kobes"—referring to his Nike-branded sneakers—"and said they couldn't wear it 'cause we was soft."
April 13, 2016: Nike gives Kobe a send-off.
Perhaps Bryant's closest link to Oregon was the Beaverton-based sportswear giant and its Portland advertising firm, Wieden + Kennedy. For his retirement, Nike made an ad with Bryant and a literal chorus of haters. And who was the first off the bench to stand up and yell, "Kobe, you suck"? A dude in a Terry Porter jersey. A fitting end to a beautiful war.