Kobe Bryant may have retired, but his legacy is still shaping the NBA landscape.
After a stretch late in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals that saw both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors go scoreless for nearly four whole minutes, it was Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving who hit what ended up being the season-deciding shot over Stephen Curry.
After taking the game and his first championship, Irving said he drew inspiration from the Los Angeles Lakers great during the Cavs' victory.
“That moment right there happened, and I was like ‘ok, I’m fine’ ” Irving said of some early jitters before referring to Bryant's self-given "Black Mamba" moniker. “And all I was thinking about in the back of my mind was Mamba mentality. Just Mamba mentality, that’s all I was thinking.”
Irving and Bryant got to know each other during a Team USA camp in 2012. The Cavs guard had just earned Rookie of the Year honors, but as a 20-year-old didn't end up making the final Team USA squad.
Still, he developed a relationship with Bryant, famously challenging him to a game of one-on-one.
“[It] is historic for me, but I probably didn’t realize what I was getting myself into at the time,” said Irving of his experience with Bryant. “But that attitude, I know he respected it and what I did at that USA camp, playing against the best guys in the league, Kobe happened to be one of them, and they go on to win a gold medal.
“It was a great experience and that is one of those moments that I will remember for a lifetime.”
While we don't know if this dream matchup took place or not, but you get the vibe from that quote that it did and it didn't end well for Irving.
After their final NBA game against one another, a 120-108 Cleveland victory that saw each player score 26, Irving praised the Lakers legend.
“Just how fundamentally sound he is as a basketball player,” Irving said. “That appreciation of the game I think goes unnoticed sometimes, but the finite details of the game such as footwork or anything like that, the midrange game that I’ve been watching, that I’ve tried to implement in my game, that’s something that I love.
“A lot of people like to see highlight dunks, a lot of crossovers and stuff like that. But when I’m watching Kobe, I just watch how detailed he is and just watching how he reads the game… I have a true appreciation of that and I ask him all the time about it.”
Irving scored 26 points in the historic Game 7 victory. He averaged 27.1 points on 46.8 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 from three in the series to go with 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.1 steals per game.