Kobe Bryant endured the boos, appreciated the cheers and tried to shake off the rust in his return to the Lakers lineup.
Bryant made his first regular-season appearance Saturday night, scoring 15, including three free throws in the final 66 seconds, to help Los Angeles' All-Star lineup hold off the Suns 103-99.
He received mostly boos, but some cheers, when he was introduced and was booed by some nearly every time he touched the ball. But there were Laker fans in the capacity crowd, and he got some cheers, too.
"I expected the worst," Bryant said. "To hear anyone cheering felt good."
A few days earlier, Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant were exchanging verbal jabs through the media. Now, O'Neal says he believes Bryant will withstand any negative crowd response.
"We've been booed before, so a boo is nothing new to Kobe," O'Neal said. "It's nothing new to us. That's not going to break him. Nothing's going to break him. He's a tough little kid."
Bryant missed a free throw with 10.9 seconds to go and the Lakers leading 102-99, giving the Suns a chance to tie. But Amare Stoudemire, not known for his outside shooting, missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said Stoudemire should have passed to Casey Jacobsen.
"Casey was wide open," Johnson said. "All we had to do was make one more pass. But that's a young player."
The Suns' Shawn Marion got the rebound but went up for a shot instead of passing it out for another 3-point try. He missed, and Karl Malone grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made a free throw with 2.3 seconds left.
Bryant shot 4-of-12 from the field and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line in 37 minutes, far more than he had expected to play.
"You know what, that was about the easiest 37 minutes I've ever played," Bryant said. "When you're out there playing with so many great players, it makes the game so much easier."
JAMES' EDUCATION CONTINUES: Three games into the season, LeBron James is experiencing the highs and lows of the NBA and the grind of the road.
He wouldn't trade it for anything.
"This is everything I dreamed of," the league's most celebrated rookie said.
James had fewer than 20 points for the first time, scoring eight in Cleveland's 104-85 loss to host Portland on Saturday night.
James was 3-for-12 from the floor but did contribute six assists.
"I just didn't have my A game," he said. "I just didn't play well."
The off night came after James barreled into the season with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds in the opener Wednesday at Sacramento.
The next night in Phoenix he had 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
"Three games in four nights is tough on anybody," Cavs coach Paul Silas said. "He's adapted so well the first couple of games, I think he fooled a lot of people."