If you’ve been to Atlanta for longer than a layover, you’ve probably heard of the soul food institution Busy Bee Café. Inside, Melissa and crew run a simple, pretension-free kitchen serving the best fried tilapia and candied yams you’ve ever had. Rapper Killer Mike famously introduced Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to the spot on November 23. Kobe Bryant took his wife, Vanessa, there on Friday.
You think Mr. Bryant’s farewell tour is solely about him saying goodbye to NBA teams and fans? Nah, Kobe’s saying adios to whole cities. So, when it was Atlanta’s turn on December 4, he did what any clear-thinking individual would—he stopped by the city’s best down-home restaurant for one last meal.
Of course, the flip side to all that great eating is that you feel a little sluggish when you finally put the fork down. Apparently, the same thing happens to 17-time all-stars. It didn’t matter how cool the pregame acknowledgement (Zoo Atlanta renamed its resident black mamba “Kobe”), how raucous the crowd (an impressive Lakers contingent in Philips Arena was loud) or how many famous faces were courtside (actor/comedian Chris Tucker, Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones), Bryant simply could not get going early on versus the Hawks.
Kobe missed his patented fall-away jumpers and clanked a number of shots from Curry Country. He didn’t knock down his first field goal until 7:23 left in the second quarter. But hey, he’s made a Hall of Fame career out of feasting on inferior opposition. Nobody seemed to care much about Friday’s off-shooting performance—or, for that matter, this season’s off-shooting performance. Every time he touched the ball, a buzz came over the bleachers.
By the time Kobe got semi-cooking in the third quarter (he knocked down consecutive treys in a quarter when L.A. outscored Atlanta 30-20), his young team was in too deep a hole. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Bryant simply doesn’t have the legs for getting teams out of massive trenches any longer. Final score: Hawks 100, Lakers 87.
“I’ve always loved to play here,” said Bryant, who finished with 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting, in a post-game presser at Philips Arena. “There’s always so much energy in the building. [Dominique Wilkins] has always been one of my favorite players growing up. I had a chance to catch up with him a little bit before the game. You have so many great players that played here. The video tribute that they did [was great]. Even [renaming] the black mamba at the zoo—that stuff is pretty darn cool.”
From here, the farewell tour goes on to Detroit (on Sunday, December 6) and then Toronto (December 7). While there’s no word yet as to which restaurants he’ll hit in those cities, Kobe did hint that tiredness won’t play much of a factor when it comes to visiting Eastern Conference cities one last time in an NBA jersey.
“It’s fun to be able to get out there and play,” said Bryant, who played a game-high 35 minutes against the Hawks. “Even if my body is a little sore, this moment is not coming again. Pulling up to the arena and getting ready for the game, it’s not going to happen again. Walking down the tunnel and so forth. It’s important to try to enjoy these moments as much as possible.”
Though careful not to reveal too many details about his future prematurely, Kobe hinted that there are business endeavors on the horizon. Who knows? Maybe some of that business will require a trip back to Atlanta. But just in case it doesn’t, after the game, Kobe and his wife made sure to visit a local Waffle House, the city’s most infamous late-night dining spot, for one last ATL meal. Hey, even 37-year-old snakes crave sausage, eggs and scattered hash browns.
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