HOUSTON -- The retirement circus truly commenced in Philadelphia, where signs danced among a sea of purple-and-gold fans who packed the stands and chanted the homecoming hero's name at top volume almost from start to finish.
Fans inched as close as possible to the court to snap a photo of the Los Angeles Lakers legend, and everywhere the team went, from checking in to their hotel to arriving at the arena, fans swarmed to catch just one glimpse of Kobe Bryant.
The farewell tour for Bryant, who announced two days before facing the 76ers on Dec. 1 that he would be retiring after this, his 20th season, then made stops in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Toronto, Minneapolis, San Antonio and, finally, Houston, where the team concluded an eight-game-in-12-day road trip.
In each city, Bryant received raucous ovations. Some teams gave him lengthy starting lineup introductions that listed every one of his many accolades; some teams broadcast glowing tribute videos; some teams did both. Before facing the 76ers, Bryant's high school coach and 76ers legend Julius Erving presented him with a framed high school jersey from nearby Lower Merion. Zoo Atlanta announced that it was naming its black mamba "Kobe." And whether it was Bryant's final stop in that city or his penultimate visit, chants of "Kobe!" rang out throughout arenas.
"I was chanting his name, too," Rockets guard James Harden said Saturday after his team beat the Lakers, 126-97, at Toyota Center. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance that you're going to see this guy play again. I haven't had the chance to see Michael [Jordan] play in person, but [Kobe is] a modern Michael."
Rockets center Dwight Howard, Bryant's former Lakers teammate, said, "He's Kobe Bryant, one of the best players to play the game, this generation's Michael [Jordan]. Of course in any arena he goes to, he's going to get the biggest chants."
For Bryant, the experience is overwhelming.
"It's been crazy. It's been different, being on the road and experiencing [that]," he said Saturday. "The acceptance and the thank-yous and things like that, it's been wonderful."
It has also been quite an experience for Bryant's teammates.
Rookie guard D'Angelo Russell said he wants to snag some memorabilia at some point.
"It's a long season," Russell said. "I'll try to get something every game."
Julius Randle wants autographs, too.
"Oh, yeah, [Kobe is] going to have to sign a couple things for me," the second-year forward said. "He can't go out that easy."
First-year Lakers center Roy Hibbert said he has never seen anything like it.
"They're changing the names of snakes!" Hibbert said. "People are in awe of them. People sitting baseline, wanting to ask him questions. People are trying to be slick and, 'Hey, Kobe,' [and are] trying to record conversations while he's on the bench. It's something."
First-year Lakers guard Lou Williams said road environments were already wild before Bryant announced that he'd officially retire at the end of this season, as many fans already assumed this would be Bryant's final season anyway.
"We're kind of used to it at this point," Williams said with a laugh.
The road crowds have been hospitable -- far more like home games than not.
"The first time it really hit me is in Philly," Lakers rookie forward Larry Nance said. "That was crazy. Because he was coming home and even more so than a game at stake, they were cheering for us harder than Staples [Center]. It was crazy. And that's nothing against Staples. It's just they were that enthusiastic about seeing Kobe for the last time and welcoming him home and sending him out on a good note."
Randle said, "It's amazing. It's like every game is a home game for us."
Metta World Peace was Bryant's teammate from 2009-2013 and said he's not surprised by the receptions Bryant is receiving.
"It's always like that with Kobe. It's honestly not new," World Peace said. "It was like that every year all the time -- [chants of] 'Ko-be, Ko-be!' Now this is his last year, so obviously it's a little more electric, but it's always been like that."
Even then, World Peace did admit that this time is different.
"I did get an autograph, so it must be special," he said, referencing Bryant's farewell note to Lakers fans that World Peace not only had signed but framed, too.
Bryant's retirement overshadows the season and could easily be a distraction.
"At the root of it, we have to try to win games," Hibbert said.
But several Lakers say the added buzz from Bryant's farewell tour isn't a bother.
"Nah, and if it is, it's a great distraction," World Peace said.
Many of Bryant's teammates say they also understand the historic element to these final games alongside him.
"You know you're a part of something that's going to go down in history," Williams said. "To be a part of that whole process and to see it day in and day out and to be able to look back 10-15 years from now is going to be something special."
Nance said, "I've been trying to come up with a better word for it, but I can't -- it's just so cool that I get to call him a teammate. There's not many people in the world that get to be able to call Kobe Bryant a teammate, especially in his final season. So being on this team and getting to see him for his 20th and final season, it's an honor."
In the end, Lakers coach Byron Scott wants his players to enjoy the experience.
"Just take it all in, because this is the last time they're going to see anything like this probably in their careers or play with anybody like this in their careers," Scott said.
"Just try to enjoy every moment of it and go along for the ride because every city we go to, it's going to be like this, so enjoy it. Enjoy playing with him, because you're not going to get another guy like him."