When you think of the late Kobe Bryant, several things can spring to the forefront of your mind. Some will remember the iconic image of him clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Others will gravitate toward his 81-point effort in 2006. Those who prefer a bigger picture view, however, will think of Kobe’s famous Mamba Mentality. Allen Iverson, it seems, knows that work ethic all too well.
After Bryant’s untimely death, A.I. penned an open letter to the former Laker. While the two men didn’t have the closest relationship, Iverson did share a personal memory of an early encounter with Kobe’s legendary competitive edge.
Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant both began their legendary NBA careers in 1996
These days, the names “Iverson” and “Bryant” loom large in NBA history. In 1996, though, both guards were still young men with something to prove.
A.I. entered the 1996 NBA draft after two explosive seasons at Georgetown. The Philadelphia 76ers snapped him up with the first overall pick and, before long, the guard was strutting his stuff on the professional stage. As a rookie, he memorably dropped 35 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and crossed Michael Jordan over during a meeting with the Bulls. Even if he couldn’t bring a championship back to Philly, Iverson stood tall as the answer to the Sixers’ previous problems.
Bryant also joined the professional ranks in 1996, entering the NBA draft directly from high school. The Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 13th overall pick, but a trade brought the guard to Los Angeles. While he didn’t immediately dominate the competition in the same way that Iverson did, Kobe showed plenty of potential and, before long, was well on his way to stardom.
Allen Iverson remembered an early encounter with the Lakers star
Although Bryant wasn’t a regular starter during his first couple of NBA campaigns, the young guard wasn’t short on confidence or internal fire. Just ask Allen Iverson about that.
After Kobe’s untimely death, Iverson penned an open letter to the late legend in The Players’ Tribune. He called Bryant the “fiercest competitor” he’d ever seen and provided a personal example of that reality.
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, and 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.Allen Iverson writing in the Players’ Tribune
While it’s not clear if Kobe actually watched videos of sharks hunting seals — given what we know of his personality, it’s not out of the question — Iverson confirmed that Bryant backed up that research on the court.
“What I love about that story is, it’s the truth. That was just our relationship. Two dudes pushing each other to greatness. The next time you came through Philly, you were ALL up in my s—,” Iverson continued. “There was no half-stepping you. Every first step, I had to go 100. You’re [6-foot-6], and it was like you wanted to guard me. You wanted the challenge. You wanted to show me that you were the baddest motherf—– to ever play the game. And I didn’t want ANY part of Kobe Bryant on the other end!!!!!”
Again, it’s not exactly clear when that anecdote took place, but the Lakers did visit Philadelphia shortly after Iverson dropped 35 points as the Knicks on a rookie. The Answer only scored 16 points while shooting .222 from the floor that night, so, if that’s the game in question, it does seem like Kobe did his job on defense.
Kobe Bryant, of course, eventually channeled that spirit into his famous Mamba Mentality
During the early days of his career, Bryant hadn’t yet created his Black Mamba persona. His famous work ethic, however, was already alive and well.
Years later, Kobe immortalized the work ethic that Iverson saw as Mamba mentality. He’d even pen a book on the subject, telling Amazon Book Review that the mindset “is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most and is “the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.” The Laker star also practiced what he preached, reading the referee’s handbook, putting himself through all sorts of workouts, and carrying a DVD player around with him to study game tape wherever he was.
Maybe he had a DVD of sharks hunting seals in the Pacific Ocean, too.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference