Kobe Bryant Was Obsessed With Beating One NBA Legend—Who Was It?

Joe Welkie
(Photo: Getty)

There are loads of legendary sports rivalries. The Yankees and the Red Sox, the Bears and the Packers, you name a sport, there is a legendary rivalry associated with it. One of the more interesting aspects of sports though is when one particular player has an intense rivalry with another. It can lead to interesting sports psychology, obsession, and matchups.

Kobe Bryant had one player he was obsessed with competing against. That man? Allen Iverson.

The Philadelphia legend went head-to-head against Bryant several times, and in the early parts of their careers, Iverson would routinely get the best of Bryant. This apparently led Bryant to the point of obsession, studying any and all film available on Iverson, seeing where his weaknesses were, and how to shut him down. 

In a piece in the Players' Tribune, Bryant revealed the extent of his madness surrounding Iverson. Especially after a particular game in which Iverson scored 35 points, and Bryant only played five minutes and scored two.

"When I checked into my hotel room later that night and saw the 35 on SportsCenter, I lost it. I flipped the table, threw the chairs, broke the TV. I thought I had been working hard. Five minutes. Two points. I needed to work harder. I did. On March 19, 1999, Iverson put 41 points and 10 assists on me in Philadelphia.

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.

On Feb 20, 2000, in Philadelphia, PJ gave me the assignment of guarding AI at the start of the second half. No one knew how much this challenge meant to me.

I wanted him to feel the frustration I felt.

I wanted everyone who laughed at the 41 and 10 he put on me to choke on their laughter.

When I started guarding AI, he had 16 at the half. He finished the game with 16.

Revenge was sweet.

But I wasn’t satisfied after the win. I was annoyed that he had made me feel that way in the first place.

I swore, from that point on, to approach every matchup as a matter of life and death. No one was going to have that kind of control over my focus ever again."

That is the dedication that led to Bryant becoming one of the greatest players to ever step foot on the court. Obsession can be healthy when it's leading you to achieve greatness, and if Bryant's piece is illuminating for anyone out there, take his advice. Get obsessed with being the best you can be, and you will succeed.


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