The Greatest

The greatest basketball player on the planet will take to the hardwood at the Wachovia Center tonight.

Unfortunately, he will be wearing a Lakers’ jersey.

Yes, the pride of Lower Merion, Kobe Bryant, will lead the Lakers into his home town for a matchup with the struggling Sixers.

Bryant, son of Sixers and Philly legend Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, is the native son Philadelphians love to hate.

I’ve never been sure why.

Maybe it’s because he was considered something of a suburbanite, instead of a city kid.

Maybe it’s because he grew up in Italy, where his dad played for years, and speaks fluent Italian.

Maybe it’s because he wears that hated yellow Lakers jersey.

It probably didn’t help back in 2001, when Allen Iverson and the Sixers took Game 1 of the NBA Finals vs. L.A., only to see Kobe and the Lakers flip the switch and sweep the next four.

And his comments about “cutting the heart out of the Sixers” undoubtedly didn’t endear him to the locals.

But the truth is if Bryant put on a Sixers jersey, he’d likely be a hero here. Pete Rose in baggy short pants. Not with everyone, but with most. For some reason some people just have it in for Bryant.

Maybe it’s time for that to change. Maybe it’s time for Philly to open its heart to one of the greatest players ever to step on the court.

Sixers fans certainly don’t have anything else to cheer for in this wretched season.

If you’re going to the game tonight, consider this. Consider rising to your feet and offering a standing ovation to a local kid who has earned it.

Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world. And he is one of our own.

It’s about time we recognized that.