Kobe Bryant has received a ton of attention for his unofficial-but-basically-official farewell tour, with opposing fans showering him with applause and gifts (even though he has claimed to not want such treatment) ever since Bryant announced he was hanging up his purple and gold jersey for good in a poem on the Player's Tribune. Despite the (well-deserved) extra attention, Bryant is not the only long-time member of the Los Angeles Lakers who has publicly declared they will move on at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti will also call it a career and move into a consulting position with the team after 32 years serving on the team's bench. The Lakers stalwart is one of the longest tenured members of the organization, having overseen the Showtime era, to the Shaq and Kobe threepeat, and the Lakers' back to back championships in 2009 and 2010. After spending so much time around the team and by extension Bryant over that period, Vitti could be considered something of an expert on the future Hall of Famer. With that experience in mind, it is interesting to read Vitti's take on the appreciation Bryant has seen from fans since announcing his retirement (via Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times):
Vitti chuckled at Bryant's apparent surprise when the retiring All-Star said, "I thought everybody hated me," after bathing in the warmth of adoring road crowds.
"They do hate him," Vitti said. "He shouldn't confuse respect with love. I think they really respect what he does on the basketball court and they're showing that respect back.
"I think it was the same thing with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. He was never very loved but on his final tour he got a standing ovation in every city we went to. He was respected as a true champion and I think that's the same thing with Kobe."
Vitti is probably not entirely wrong. Bryant is by any metric one of the most polarizing athletes of the last generation, having ripped hearts out all across the league during his prime while not particularly caring publicly what fans thought of him one way or another. Love him or hate him, just about everyone had an opinion on Kobe. Vitti could be correct that fans are simply showing their respect in their last chance to see a declining and retiring legend, but it is likely a mixture of love and simple respect based off of how many Lakers fans there are around the country.
Regardless of if it is respect or love fans are showing, it has been nice to see a happier, more appreciative side of Bryant and he
shoots rides off into the sunset.
Bresnahan's entire report on Vitti is worth a read, and you can do so here.