NBA Legend Allen Iverson Pens Heartfelt Tribute to Kobe Bryant: 'You Were a Hero to Me'
In an essay published in The Players' Tribune on Kobe Bryant Day on Monday (8/24), Iverson reflected on battling the Los Angeles Lakers legend during their time in the NBA, and how Bryant's tenacity inspired him to be better.
"Me and you, every single time we stepped on that floor, we were going to war. But it wasn’t an animosity thing. There was never any beef," Iverson, 45, wrote a day after what would have been Bryant's 42nd birthday. "It was like heavyweight fighters beating the hell out of one another. And then at the bell, it’s nothing but love and respect. Greatness needs company, and we needed each other. Mike needed Prince like Prince needed Mike. Tyson needed Holyfield like Holyfield needed Tyson."
"Everybody needs that person to say, 'Oh, you’re the sh—, huh? Well I’m the sh—, too,'" he continued. "And boy, you were the s—."
Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers and Bryant’s Lakers faced each other on basketball's biggest stage at the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant and the Lakers eventually won the championship, but not before the 76ers handed Los Angeles their first and only loss of the playoffs that year.
By the time he retired in 2016, Bryant would walk away from the NBA with five titles, an NBA MVP award and 18 All-Star appearances.
"You were the toughest man that I’ve ever seen in this game," Iverson wrote. "The most cold-blooded serial killer I’ve ever seen. The fiercest competitor I’ve ever seen."
"I remember hearing the story that you were on the road, and you were watching the highlights of me dropping 35 on the Knicks at the Garden our rookie year," Iverson continued. "You got so mad that you smashed up the hotel room and you started researching me like you were in the CIA. 'GET ME THE FILE ON A.I.' — I bet it was like that. Studying how great white sharks hunt down seals in the Pacific Ocean and whatnot."
Iverson — who was selected 12 picks before Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft — said his children looked up to Bryant has a "hero," and so did he.
"My kids used to be hitting me talking about how they want the Kobe Adidases when they came out!!!! They were rocking number 8 and number 24, because you were one of their heroes," he said. "And if I’m being honest about it? You were a hero to me, too. Even though you were younger than me, I looked up to you because of how much you sacrificed, how much you gave to this game."
Iverson has paid tribute many times since Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. During the 2020 All-Star Game, Iverson was seen honoring Bryant by wearing his No. 8 jersey, along with a Lakers hat.
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But even before Bryant's death, Iverson didn't hide his respect for his former rival. During Bryant's jersey retirement ceremony in 2017, Iverson wore a shirt featuring Bryant holding an NBA trophy — the same one he earned by beating Iverson and the Sixers.
"We’re still gonna cry sometimes when we remember that you’re really gone," Iverson concluded his essay. "But we gonna smile like a motherf—r when we think of the memories."
"I don’t really know how I’m supposed to close out a letter like this," he continued. "I don’t really know how to say goodbye to an NBA legend, a father, a husband, a friend. I don’t really have the words. All I know is … I love you, brother."
Read the essay in its entirety here.
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