SALT LAKE CITY — When the Jazz and Lakers played last Saturday, Metta World Peace created L.A.-type buzz when he kissed a spectator's hand after blocking a Gordon Hayward shot.
Ever the charmer, that Mr. World Peace — especially in the stands.
Earl Watson isn't on the same notoriety level as The Player Formerly Known As Ron Artest, but the Utah player had a fan interaction at Staples Center that same night that might've gone viral had it been captured on video.
Incidentally, Watson's experience also involved a female fan — and kisses.
There was a big difference.
The Jazz guard actually knows — and thinks the world of — the girl that received his public display of affection.
She is Isabella, his 3-year-old daughter.
"She came to the game the other day," Watson explained, "and I kept waving at her behind the bench, and she was blowing me kisses."
Watson returned the waves and kisses to the little girl he's called his "bff" on Twitter.
The funny part, he said while chuckling, was the reaction of Lakers supporters sitting in the vicinity of his favorite fan. They didn't know who the former UCLA standout and offseason L.A. resident was sending airborne smooches to in the stands.
"I think fans thought I was just waving at random kids," Watson said. "Other people started yelling my name and blowing me kisses."
Watson imagined that Lakers fans unaware of his daughter's presence were thinking he's "probably the nicest guy in the NBA." He laughed, guessing they might be saying something to the effect of, "It was a great game. Earl Watson's blowing us kisses." Or maybe, "He was taunting us."
Because her dad's still rehabbing from knee surgery, Isabella didn't get to watch Watson play.
The Jazz's Southern California trip was perfect timing for their family, though. They celebrated her third birthday on Saturday afternoon — well before the preseason game.
"It was really cool — a 'My Little Pony' birthday party," the proud papa said. "It was exciting."
The only downside for Watson was that he wasn't able to attend his alma mater's 21-14 football win over the University of Utah that day at the Rose Bowl.
Being with Isabella beats that, of course. Blowing kisses to her — and seeing others' reactions — only capped the night. Watson figures fans finally started making the connection in the second half.
"By the time she kept saying, 'Daddy, daddy,'" he added, "they realized, 'Oh, he's really talking to his daughter.'"
Visiting his girl wasn't the only positive experience in L.A. for Watson. The 33-year veteran point guard increased his participation level in Jazz practices. He's still building strength in his right knee, which underwent surgery for a torn medial meniscus ligament in April, and isn't able to do contact work yet. But he is running, taking part in drills and doing most things at practices other than scrimmage.
"I'm progressing. It's not baby steps. It's major steps," Watson said. "I'm heading in the right direction."
Watson isn't ready to guesstimate when he'll return to begin battling Jamaal Tinsley for backup point guard time behind Mo Williams.Comment on this story
"No projection," he said. "As soon as possible."
For the record, Watson didn't blow any kisses to cute admirers in the crowd in the Jazz's subsequent games at Anaheim or against the Clippers.