The 10 Best Personal Rivalries Of Kobe Bryant’s Career

By: 12.06.12
Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O’Neal (photo. Chenoa Maxwell)

With Lakers guard Kobe Bryant becoming the fifth and fastest player in NBA history to score 30,000 points, Dime is looking at all angles of the five-time champion’s career today. (Hey, we already called him the greatest player since 2000.) It’s equal parts celebration and examination of one of the NBA’s most polarizing and talented players in history.

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Kobe Bryant fought for every point to eclipse the 30,000 mark. He had to play through numerous injuries and go against the stingiest and most stifling defenses in order to score. Guess what? He was able to do it and in some cases made it look easy.

Kobe isn’t an angel. He’s always been known to flap his gums and be testy towards his opponents but at least he backed it up on a regular basis. He’s dealt with beef from opponents, the Raja Bells of the world, and even overcome conflicts with his own teammates, including Shaq and Smush Parker.

Regardless, this milestone will be remembered for how he earned his buckets over certain key rivals and people he beefed with. During Bryant’s 16-plus seasons in the NBA he’s matched up against hundreds of opponents. These are the few who stood out as Kobe’s personal rivals.

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10. MICHAEL JORDAN
Just imagine if Kobe played against Mike now. Though we’ll never know how those two would have fared against one another during their primes, we could still marvel at their battles earlier on in Kobe’s career. With MJ ready to relinquish his coveted throne to the next young great player, Kobe was primed and ready to take up on the task of being the one to do it. Jordan – who Kobe dubbed as his idol – was fresh off his fourth title when the two went head to head in ’97. Jordan’s Bulls single-handedly destroyed Bryant’s Lakers by 21. The most intriguing thing about that game was not Jordan’s 36 points in 35 minutes, but Kobe’s 33 points in 29 minutes. That was off the bench. Number 8 would later drop 20 off the bench against Mike that season as well.

Then there was the first All-Star Game matchup in Madison Square Garden where Bryant went at Jordan, and the GOAT proudly responded, turning the game into as close to a one-on-one battle as you’ll get in the ego-laden midseason classic.

The game that people will probably remember most, perhaps unfairly, was when Mike and Kobe squared off for Jordan’s final game against his protégé on March 23, 2003. Kobe scorched MJ for 55, with 42 coming in the first half. A fan even held a sign that said “Goodbye Michael, Hello Kobe.”

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9. TRACY McGRADY
There was a point where T-Mac was even considered better than Kobe. You may not want to acknowledge it, but T-Mac used to be a very, very bad man. The two shared very similar backgrounds but trailed different paths. Both came out of high school. Both prospects started off the bench. Both were electrifying dunkers who would later forge themselves into elite prime time scorers. In fact, when McGrady struggled during his first few seasons in the NBA, he’d often call Bryant, asking for advice on how to deal with the grind of the NBA. Did it work? Bryant was always a little further along, and it seemed the talks paid off. They’d eventually matchup together in the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, where a few fleeting moments of competitive trash talk, buckets and blocks hinted at something greater down the road.

As you know, Kobe always wanted to be in a class of his own. When T-Mac emerged in Orlando, questions surfaced as to whether T-Mac was indeed the best player in the league. With T-Mac owning the East Coast and Bryant owning the West Coast, arguments arose, and discussions were endless as to who was the head honcho in the league. Kobe has a 14-7 record against his buddy T-Mac, where he averaged 26.9 points in contrast to McGrady’s 17.9 points a game. He even torched T-Mac with 53 when McGrady made the shift over to the West Coast playing with the Rockets. How did T-Mac perform? He had a cool 30 despite shooting 7-for-24 from the field. He did manage to get the ‘W’ though which mattered most. Barring injuries, T-Mac could have made Kobe’s life a living hell throughout the years. Guess we’ll never know.

The videos below, containing footage of one of the greatest one-on-one battles you’ve probably never heard of, is from the 2002-03 season when Bryant and McGrady both averaged at least 30 points a night. In this particular game, both incredibly finished with 38 points. Part two also contains the most unbelievable back-and-forth sequence I’ve ever seen: at one point, McGrady nearly dropped Kobe with a sick move and bucket out of the post, so Bryant got pissed, came flying down on the other end, and dropped a facial on the entire Magic team, smacking the Hell out of the backboard in the process.

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8. DOUG CHRISTIE
You had to feel bad for Christie. He wasn’t necessarily a trash talker. He came to work every day and did his job for Rick Adelman and Sacramento, and during the 2000s, his job would become very difficult when the task of clamping down Kobe Bryant on defense became his assignment.

With several grueling playoff battles against the Lakers, Adelman’s Kings would often rely on Christie to do the dirty work in regards to containing Bryant. How did he fare you ask? Kobe averaged 30 points a game and was able to close out the Sacramento Kings every time out with an impressive 8-3 record against Christie.

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7. RUBEN PATTERSON
What always baffled me about this particular beef was that Ruben Patterson was so adamant about being the answer to guarding No. 8. After dubbing himself the “Kobe Stopper,” and self-proclaiming himself as the messiah of great defense, Kobe shattered his confidence by lighting him up with an average of 29 points a game in 23 matchups.

Granted, Kobe had his share of games where he struggled, such as like his 5-of-23 effort in 2004 against Portland in one game. But, there were games where Kobe decimated Ruben and shrunk his ego down to the size of a peanut M&M like when he scored 40 off 15-of-32 shooting against Patterson in 2003.

In this game against Portland below, Bryant hit two buzzer-beater three-pointers over Patterson, the final a game-winner.

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6. MATT BARNES
You have got to admire players who tried to get into Kobe’s head.

Barnes was one of those players when he was with the Orlando Magic in 2009-2010 when he had the task of guarding Kobe. During their first matchup, he limited the Black Mamba to 11 points. Their next encounter, Bryant exploded for over 30 points and was in a little skirmish initiated by Matt. After his putback dunk, Barnes decided to boast and get in Kobe’s face. A lot of pushing was done on Barnes’ end. Even when he was taking the ball out, he tried to scare Bryant by pretending to throw the inbounds pass at his face hoping to make Kobe flinch.

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5. RAY ALLEN
One thing you know about Kobe is that he’s a brutal trash talker. He’ll never hold this tongue. So when the rumor began circulating back in 2004 regarding an alleged phone conversation in which Bryant so eloquently told Allen “I’m gonna bust your ass,” the media went ballistic. Ray simply claimed the discussion was fiction. Kobe squashed the conversation and sparked the feud by saying “Don’t even put me and dude [Allen] in the same place.”

Jabs would be exchanged as Allen would label Kobe as “selfish” the night after Bryant torched his Seattle Sonics for 35 in the preseason (the video of Bryant’s block on Allen below came at the height of their beef). The two would finally met during the biggest stage of them all which was the NBA Finals in 2008, where Allen served a helping of eight three-pointers during Game 2, resulting in the Celtics winning the championship later on. Kobe would then avenge that loss two years later and capture his fifth ring against Allen’s Celtics in a classic seven game series.

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4. BRUCE BOWEN
Bruce Bowen was an intense competitor who thrived on the defensive end. His defensive prowess was always recognized and respected by many, even Bryant. Bryant vigorously fought to get shots up against Bowen’s defense. During the regular season, the head-to-head matchup would land in Bowen’s favor 18-14, while Bryant still managed to average 26.2 points a game on 42.7 percent shooting. Bowen’s Spurs would clash with the Lakers often in the playoffs as well. Unfortunately, his Spurs usually found themselves on the losing end. Kobe would average 28.6 points per game against Bowen in the playoffs as his Lakers went 14-8 against Bruce’s Spurs.

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3. RAJA BELL
The Bryant and Bell rivalry was must-see-TV during Phoenix’s Seven Seconds Or Less era. You had a regular ballplayer that enjoyed playing defense in Bell going against the raging bull in Bryant during the 2006 NBA Playoffs.

The clothesline from hell that was seen around the world fueled an angry Kobe after a Game 5 loss. This led to Bryant berating him with a slew of insults. Kobe referred to Raja as a “pompous and arrogant individual” who was also “a dirty” player. As the two battled each over for 28 games, Kobe managed to average 28.8 points against Raja, even though Bell had won 14 games and two playoff series against Bryant. During the playoffs, Kobe averaged 27.0 points a game off 45 percent shooting against Bell.

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2. SMUSH PARKER
I know what you’re thinking; How can somebody have a personal beef with their own teammate? Well, you can’t always explain the psyche of Kobe but apparently one person who worked his nerves was former teammate Smush Parker.

Smush was Kobe’s backcourt teammate from 2005-2007. Kobe Bryant never smashed Smush to the ground during their playing days, but when Kobe was given the opportunity to voice his opinion on playing with the likes of him and Kwame, he went off during this offseason.

“Smush Parker was the worst,” Bryant said. “He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. We let him walk on.”

“I almost won an MVP with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown on my team,” Bryant said in the report before Wednesday’s 93-75 exhibition loss to Portland. “I was shooting 45 times a game. What was I supposed to do? Pass it to Chris Mihm or Kwame Brown?”

This resulted in Smush saying the reason he didn’t stay with the Lakers was because he “didn’t kiss his [Kobe’s] ass.”

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1. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
This was another rift between Bryant and his teammate but, as you all may know, this one takes the cake.

The storied duo that consisted of Kobe and Shaq will go down as one of the greatest in NBA history and not just because of their success. The duo was impeccable. They won three consecutive titles from 2000-2002 as an indomitable O’Neal ravaged his adversaries averaging 30.7, 30.4, and 28.2 points per game in the three-peat title seasons. Then in 2004, after the Lakers lost to a better Pistons squad, Kobe and Shaq’s beef escalated as reports came out earlier in the season that Kobe criticized Shaq for his poor leadership and physical conditioning coming into the season.

When Shaq didn’t receive his pay raise and demanded his trade out of LA, he stated that the Lakers were only making moves to appease to the younger Bryant. Shaq would be traded to Miami where he would win a ring but watched Kobe win two more. This would later cause Bryant to infamously claim that he one upped O’Neal.

Who do you remember giving Kobe the biggest fits?

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