Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant endured some epic back-and-forths on the court. Now it’s all love and reflection between the former rivals.
Iverson, who lost to Bryant’s Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals, took to Instagram to acknowledge the NBA legend’s passing. He posted a beautiful picture of Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, grabbing his cheeks after winning one of his five championships.
Gianna perished with her father in Sunday’s fiery helicopter crash in California that took the lives of nine people. The reactions and emotions have been flooding in from around the league, including the Lakers and Clippers canceling their game on Tuesday night.
Iverson and Bryant faced each other 38 times over the course of their legendary careers, with Bryant owning the 24-14 advantage in their head-to-head matchups. The Sixers Hall-of-Famer released the following statement:
“Words cannot express how I’m feeling today. The only two words that ring in my head — devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I’ve tried to do since hearing this yesterday. People will always remember how we competed against each other in the league, but it goes much deeper than that for me. The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the history of the NBA can be debated for many years to come.”
Iverson was selected by the Sixers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft while Bryant was taken at No. 13 by the Hornets then traded to the Lakers. Iverson retired in 2010 and Bryant played until 2016. Both men were extremely complimentary and studied each other’s games meticulously. They were rivals who truly admired one another.
Iverson and Bryant Almost Teammates in 1996
Everyone talks about the 1996 NBA draft, a talent-laden bin filled with guys like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen. Iverson went No. 1 to the Sixers but Philadelphia was hoping to land both Iverson and Bryant.
According to Jonathan Abrams, Sixers scout Tony DiLeo had a plan in place to pair the two future superstars up together in his backcourt. The Sixers were trying to trade former first-round pick Jerry Stackhouse in a potential deal but it never came to fruition. Instead, the Sixers took only Iverson as Bryant went to the Lakers. And the two players became instant rivals.
In 2017, Bryant penned an article for The Players Tribune where he openly admitted to being “obsessed” with stopping Iverson.
Working harder wasn’t enough.
I had to study this man maniacally.
I obsessively read every article and book I could find about AI. I obsessively watched every game he had played, going back to the IUPU All-American Game. I obsessively studied his every success, and his every struggle. I obsessively searched for any weakness I could find.
Iverson Wore Kobe T-Shirt to Lakers Retirement Ceremony
When the Lakers retired Kobe Bryant’s two NBA numbers — No. 8 and No. 24 — Allen Iverson made sure to steal the show.
In a tongue-in-cheek nod to his friend and rival, Iverson showed up to Staples Center wearing a T-shirt that showed Bryant holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy in what appears to be the 2001 Finals.
That was the year Bryant’s Lakers beat Iverson’s Sixers in five games. The photo only adds to the myth between the legends and shows that the mutual respect between the two is undeniable.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Vanessa, their children and the families of all of the victims of yesterday’s tragedy,” Iverson wrote in a statement on Monday. “As a father, I cannot wrap my head around how they must feel.”