During the second season of the Lakers’ three-peat with the Holy Trinity of Shaq, Phil and Kobe, there was a story in an ESPN feature detailing how Kobe Bryant welcomed J.R. Rider to L.A. Story goes that KB, to reaffirm his status as the ultimate alpha dog, challenged Rider to a game of one-on-one after practice. One game turned into two games. Two turned into three, and so on. Bryant supposedly beat Rider over and over and over again, almost like a lumberjack going to work on a tree, eventually breaking him to the point where the former 20-point scorer had to admit, Okay, you win. You’re the best, Kobe.
There were other stories, too. They all painted Bryant as some mechanical offensive guru who was virtually unstoppable when given a ball, an unlimited amount of time, possessions and space, and only one defender between him and the basket.
He told ESPN’s Chris Palmer, “As far as one-on-one, I’m the best to ever do it.” That included LeBron, who he said would have no chance against him. That included Michael Jordan, who Bryant said might beat him a few games here or there with all of their matchups coming down to the last shots. It even included Kevin Durant, who was named as the current player Kobe thought would give him the most trouble.
Kobe elaborated even further, telling Palmer he was never intimidated going up against Jordan during his early years. Bryant said, “He looked at me like he was going to f— me up but I had to let him know that I wasn’t that guy. I let him know that I’m not like all those other guys he played against.”
The topic continued with the time Kobe played Tracy McGrady one-on-one:
I played T-Mac. I cooked him. Roasted him. Wasn’t even close. Ask him, he’ll tell you. When I was about 20, we were in Germany doing some promotional stuff for that other sneaker company and we played basketball every day. We were in the gym all the time. We played three games of one-on-one to 11. I won all three games. One game I won 11-2. After the third game he said he had back spasms and couldn’t play anymore.
Is this really important news? Not really. In the grand scheme of the sport, a game of one-on-one doesn’t matter, and holds virtually no weight. But it’s still entertaining, and is perhaps one of the fundamental pillars of basketball. It’s a game we all grow up playing.
Deciphering who’s the best one-on-one player is virtually impossible – we tried it already – but it’s always fun to think about. I’m just angry no one was on hand/YouTube didn’t exist to tape that Kobe/McGrady battle.
Who is the best one-on-one player ever?
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