Kobe Bryant has long time been one of the most controversial players in the history of sports, as even though he always managed to beat adversity and lead his Los Angeles Lakers squad, doubters thought he was overrated and unidimensional.
Of course, his haters couldn’t simply be more mistaken, but when it comes to Kobe, people just has to take a stand: either you love him or you hate him and there’s absolutely nothing else in between, and that’s something that goes far beyond the media and the fans, but also includes his colleagues and rivals.
You just can’t disrespect Kobe or deny his personal accolades, but considering his personality and how little he seems to care about what anybody else may think of him, Bryant made a lot of enemies through his career and they weren’t shy to show it.
Today, we’re going to tell you about the top 10 rivals of one of the best players to ever lace them up, the biggest name in Los Angeles Lakers history, a fierce scorer and a winner: Kobe Bean Bryant.
10. Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes is perhaps one of the biggest “personalities” the NBA has ever seen, and he won’t be remembered for his talent or his impact, but for being one of the league’s most epic troublemakers.
Still, you’ve got to admit that Barnes was a very crafty defender back in the day, and he was constantly trying to get in Kobe’s face (literally). See, after Bryant had dropped 30 on one of the best wing defenders in the league at the time, Barnes even pretended to throw the ball at Kobe’s face during an inbound, but the Mamba Mentality prevented Bryant from even blinking, making Barnes look like a complete fool.
9. Raja Bell
Raja Bell was yet another outstanding defender that constantly got the best out of matching up against Kobe Bryant, being the defensive anchor the Phoenix Suns so much needed to “contain” the Black Mamba in those back to back years they knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs.
Kobe was one of the league’s best scorers in those 2006 and 2007 campaigns, but Bell was just too much to handle for the Lakers defensive wise. Still, it may seem like the 27 points Kobe averaged against Bell’s squads through his career are a lot of points, but considering the Mamba was used to put at least 35 on a nightly basis, scoring 27 is a major meltdown.
8. Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen is one of the best wing defenders in the history of the game and even though he didn’t actually seem to hate Kobe, his lone labor in the court was to mess with him and stop him from getting hot, something that “limiting” to over 26 points per game during their matchups.
Once again, 26.3 points per contest seems like a lot, but we’re talking about Kobe damn Bryant over here, and mostly thanks to Bowen, the Spurs had a18-14 record against Los Angeles in the regular season, although Kobe got the best of him in the playoffs with a 14-8 record and a 29 ppg average.
7. Doug Christie
Christie was just like Barnes, Bowen and Bell, a guy that was supposed to contain Kobe Bryant every time they were set to face each other, but just couldn’t handle one of the best scorers in the history of the game who constantly made a fool out of him with his turnarounds and athletic moves.
Still, Doug Christie is perhaps the only guy that can say that limited Kobe Bryant to 8 points in a regular season defeat, but Kobe definitely got the last laugh every time he crushed the Sacramento Kings’ hopes in the postseason while averaging over 30 points per game.
6. Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady was even considered to be a way more talented offensive player than Kobe Bryant was during his prime, and even Kobe himself stated during an interview that T-Mac was one of the most difficult guys to guard in the Association due to his versatility and skill set.
McGrady was constantly among the league leaders in points and even though he was never able to succeed in the postseason, his rivalry with Kobe was more of a respectful and friendly one, to determine who’d be the guy that could torch defenders the most on a nightly basis. Besides, they had one of the most thrilling nights in basketball history when they scored 38 a piece in a Magic win against the Lakers in 2002.
5. Tim Duncan
As you all may know by now, Tim Duncan was one of the most calmed guys that you could find on an NBA hardwood, and being as respectful as he was, you were never going to find him getting in trouble or trying to make his rivals mad just to get the W.
Nonetheless, he represented a huge issue for Kobe Bryant back in the day, being the ultimate leader of a San Antonio Spurs team that was determined to stop the Los Angeles Lakers supremacy in the Western Conference, and he retired with a 30-21 record against Kobe in the matchups that completely defined the Post-Jordan era.
4. LeBron James
Talking about the Post-Jordan era, the Kobe Bryant vs LeBron James never-ending debate has to be mentioned, and even though they’ve always been quite respectful when talking about each other, James name wasn’t even mentioned when Kobe talked about the best scorers in the league of the hardest players to contain.
James constantly had better stat sheets than Kobe every time they faced each other, but Kobe was never shy to try and embarrass James, even if they were just playing in an All-Star game or a friendly matchup. LeBron, of course, is perhaps a most complete basketball player but lacks the winning mentality and dominance Bryant had in the NBA Finals, and that’s something that’s always going to hurt him in this debate. Sadly, they never faced each other at the ultimate stage.
3. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce being the face of the team that has the biggest rivalry with the Lakers (and perhaps the biggest rivalry in the league whatsoever) obviously made him constantly try to overplay the best player in the league during his prime every time they faced each other, and Pierce was never the kind of guy that would just back down from anybody.
Of course, Kobe was always a better basketball player, but sparks raised every time they were set to play one another, especially in the postseason, where they won a ring apiece against each other, with Kobe being way more influential in his team’s wins than Pierce was.
2. Shaquille O’Neal
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won 3 Championships together and even though it seemed at times that they were actually good friends, they hated each other guts for most of the time due to how different their personalities were and how badly they wanted to prove that the Lakers were their team.
At the end, Kobe won the battle and stayed put at the Staples Center, while Shaq would go on to win another ring alongside Dwyane Wade and the Heat. Constantly taking shots at one another, this feud would go on for years and could even continue now that both players are retired. Since parting ways, Shaq defeated Kobe 11 times against 7, but a surging Bryant was always the star of the show while Shaq was heading towards the door.
1. Michael Jordan
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan never actually faced each other during the best years of their careers, but Jordan has to be considered Bryant’s biggest foe considering how much both have been compared and the fact that Kobe actually carried Jordan’s torch as the best shooting guard in the league.
Jordan himself has stated that the only guy that may beat him one on one was actually Kobe because he copied most of his moves, and even though they share a lot of respect for each other, it’s pretty obvious that he definitely meant that. Jordan, of course, will go down as the best player in the history of the game as well as owning a perfect 6 of 6 in the Finals, but hey, Bryant at least puts 55 against him in his farewell year in a Lakers - Wizards matchup.