Hometown Heroes: Aces, Kobe make holiday magic at Wachovia Center

Back to News List | Posted on Dec 22nd, 2007
Ben Lucas '08 shooting a three in the second quarter

The Aces capped an LM-themed NBA/high school double-header at the Wachovia Center on Friday night with a 65-57 victory against Marple Newtown. In the night's first match-up, Kobe Bryant '96 helped lead the LA Lakers to a 106-101 victory over the Sixers. The event marked the first time the Aces had played on an NBA court and the first time Bryant and his alma mater played on the same night in the same building since 1996, when the Kobe's Aces won the state championship.

It was quite a night for Aces fans. Through a "Lower Merion Night" promotion with the Sixers, nearly 700 LM faithful purchased discounted tickets to see their hometown hero and hometown team. When the first game concluded, they made their way to the lower bowl to join an additional 300-400 LM fans who had purchased tickets through other means. Tip-off for the high school contest occurred at approximately 10 PM -- the latest-ever start time for a league game -- but nearly 1000 fans remained, many donning the Maroon & White.

The Aces and their counterparts from Marple enjoyed a unique pre-game routine, heading from their seats to the "backstage" area of the arena at the start of the 4th quarter. They passed the Sixers dance team warming up under the stands and rubbed shoulders with Sixers legends Julius Erving and Clint Richardson, who were present for an event marking the 25th Anniversary of the 1983 Sixers championship season. At the conclusion of the Sixers/Lakers game, they jogged through the tunnel and onto the court for warm-ups.

It was all Aces out of the gates; the team exploded to a 10-0 lead and extended the margin to 18 points midway through the 2nd quarter. The Tigers closed the gap late in the 4th, but LM hung on despite missing 16 free throws on the evening. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Bryant emerged from the locker room tunnel much to the delight of the fans who stood and cheered his arrival on-court. After greeting some old friends and Aces alumni, he made his way to a seat on the Lower Merion team bench. He offered some encouraging words during a time-out huddle and cheered his alma mater from the sidelines. Bryant had to gain special permission from the Lakers to remain at the Wachovia Center with his high school squad. The team bus left the arena for New York immediately following the NBA game.

Bryant also remained post-game to connect with a young mother who was the victim of gun violence in the city last summer. Bryant invited Chinika Perez and her family to the game after reading her story in the Philadelphia Daily News. Perez was brought back to life by doctors at Temple University Hospital after suffering a gun shot wound from a man she had barely begun dating. Medical complications resulted in the amputation of her left leg, at the thigh and her right leg, below the knee. Her arms were also affected and her hands are now paralyzed. Her family vehicle was stolen several months ago and her home lacks handicap accessibility. A vibrant, dynamic woman, Chinika had been limited by the challenges of her situation.

Moved by her story and the issue of gun violence in Philadelphia, Bryant stepped in to make some holiday magic. He brought Chinika's family and the doctor who saved her to the game, and hosted them in a VIP box. With the generous support of Dom Conicelli of the Conicelli Auto Group in Philadelphia, Chinika's family also received a new van, which will be converted for wheelchair access. It was a memorable and meaningful night, just in time for Christmas.

Additional coverage of the Aces' big night at the Wachovia Center, including photos and video, will be posted on Sunday.