A.I. vs. Kobe delivered the throwback duel fans paid to see. Just like in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers topped Allen Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers.
Bryant roused the 20,000 fans who came to jeer him as much as they did to root on the 76ers, scoring 24 points to lead Los Angeles to a 99-91 win over Philadelphia on Friday night.
"It was a like a trip down memory lane for me," Bryant said. "It was exciting."
Bryant always packs the Wachovia Center when he makes his yearly visit to his old stomping grounds. He rarely disappoints in putting on a show for the fans who boo his every touch yet line the court to snap countless photos.
While Bryant is still in his prime, Iverson is in a steady decline. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the All-Star showdown misses some of the buzz of years past when both could make the argument they were tops at their position.
Don't tell Iverson. He crossed-over and crashed his way toward a season-high 23 points.
Iverson and Bryant are responsible for Philadelphia's only two sellouts this season. Iverson's first game back in Philadelphia drew 20,664, and Bryant helped draw 20,809 on Friday.
Bryant led Lower Merion High School to a state championship in 1996 and visited his old school on Thursday. He said this year's homecoming was the first time he ever felt goosebumps when he was introduced from Lower Merion High.
"I think because when you get older, you get more and more nostalgic," the 31-year-old Bryant said. "You start reminiscing on where everything started. It kind of creeps in on you."
Fans around the globe are drawn to the polarizing pair. Iverson was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1996 draft and Bryant was selected 13th. They each have an MVP award. Iverson is second on Philadelphia's career scoring list and Bryant trails Jerry West by 47 points before becoming the highest-scoring Laker.
For a half, each let their teammates do all the scoring. Both Bryant and Iverson scored only two points in the first half, and the Lakers led 51-42 at the break.
Then it got fun.
As if to show the first 24 minutes didn't matter, Bryant caught the first pass of the second half, spun and buried a 14-footer.
He gave the Lakers a brief scare moments later. Elton Brand dove for the ball and tripped up Bryant, who instantly grabbed his left knee and hobbled toward the sideline. The Lakers called timeout, allowing Bryant some extra time to lightly jog and test out the knee.
Spoiler alert. Bryant can play like an MVP even when he's banged up. He promptly stole the ball and buried a fadeaway that gave the Lakers a 15-point lead.
Bryant said his knee was fine, but his ankle was stiff and sore.
Iverson, one of the greatest small men in league history, showed he's still got something left in those 34-year-old arthritic legs. He nailed one 3-pointer and two possessions later hit another that sliced the deficit to eight.
Iverson showed a glimpse of his former MVP self when he crossed-over Derek Fisher and tossed up a running bank shot as his 6-foot frame slammed onto the unforgiving court. He sank the free throw to complete the three-point play that was vintage Iverson and make it 68-63.
Bryant made the call to guard Iverson at the end of the quarter for a brief one-on-one matchup between 3 and 24.
"He's a scorer, he and I both," Bryant said. "That's what we do. We can score when we're 70 years old."
That third-quarter burst was about all Iverson and the Sixers could muster to make this one a truly close one.
Bryant stepped to the line late in the third to chants of "MVP! MVP!" only to hear it quickly drowned out by boos. He finished the quarter with a little step-back jumper to offset an invigorated Iverson.
"I just got it going a little bit," Iverson said.
Iverson scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the third to top Bryant's 5-of-7 14-point quarter. Iverson and Bryant each made 10 baskets in the game from the floor.
"That's what Allen can do," Jackson said. "I don't know if he can do it for 48, but he can still do that."
Iverson insisted he was so focused on trying to win the game, he didn't get caught up trying to outshine Bryant. He also refused to draw parallels between his career with Bryant's.
"It's evident that he is one of the best ever to do it," Iverson said. "He goes out there night in and night out and plays the same way every night."
Bryant and the Lakers did serious damage in the third. The Lakers built a 16-point lead and played the fourth in cruise control.