PHILADELPHIA -- Kobe Bryant should wear ear plugs the next time he comes to the First Union Center because fans plan to keep booing him.
Philadelphia fans - the few thousand who actually got tickets to Sunday's NBA All-Star game - booed the Los Angeles Lakers guard when he was introduced, continued whenever he took a shot early in the game, then did it almost every time he touched the ball in the second half.
When commissioner David Stern presented Bryant with the MVP trophy for scoring 31 points and leading the West to a 135-120 victory over the East, the boos were long and loud.
Bryant, who went to nearby Lower Merion High School, and whose father, Joe, played for the 76ers, was visibly shaken and later admitted he was "hurt."
But what has he done to deserve such venom from a city known for its boorish behavior?
It goes beyond the "coming to Philly to cut their hearts out" comment he made during the NBA finals last season, when the Lakers beat the Sixers in five games.
Some fans simply don't consider Bryant one of their own, others view him as a sellout because he only comes back to Philadelphia when the Lakers play here, and a few just resent his success.
"Kobe didn't go to Simon Gratz or Overbrook, he didn't go to Germantown Academy, he didn't go to Roman Catholic," Sixers fan Willie Russell said Monday, referring to some of the inner-city schools. "Kobe went to Lower Merion. He isn't from Philly. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth."
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, but spent eight years of his childhood in Italy before returning to go to high school. He skipped college, entered the 1996 NBA draft, and quickly established himself as one of the best players in the league.
A four-time All-Star, Bryant has won two straight championships with the Lakers. And, he's only 23.
Some fans still hold a grudge because he chose the draft over going to school at La Salle, where his father was an assistant coach, or another of the city's Big 5 colleges.
"Michael Jordan grew up in North Carolina and went to North Carolina. Allen Iverson grew up in Virginia and went to Georgetown. Kobe didn't do that," Sixers and Temple fan Alvin Stewart said, ignoring the fact that Philly favorite and Portland star Rasheed Wallace shunned Temple to go to North Carolina.
Philadelphians are blue-collar fans and they love an underdog - a real-life Rocky Balboa that they can relate to.
They appreciate Allen Iverson for his grit and determination more than Hall of Famer Julius Erving because the game came easier for Dr. J. They revered Pete Rose for his hustle more than Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt because he had a more casual approach. Eric Lindros could never live up to Bobby Clarke because he didn't play with the same zest and zeal, though he had more skill.
Bryant is similar to Erving, Schmidt and Lindros, except he plays for the hated Lakers. He's articulate, a model citizen, an ambassador for the game.
It makes no difference to many Philly fans.
"He divorced himself from the city and we're supposed to embrace him," Sixers season ticketholder Samuel Littleton said. "He has a smug and superior attitude. He rubbed our noses in it last year."
They once booed Santa Claus in this city, but fans claim he deserved it because he appeared to be drunk.
They cheered the temporary paralysis of Dallas receiver Michael Irvin, but fans justify it because he was arrogant, flamboyant and played for the hated Cowboys.
They threw batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, but fans say he earned it by spurning the Phillies and going back into the draft.
"In Philadelphia, they boo everybody," Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen said.
It's not exactly true, but it sure seems that way.
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