One of the most fierce arguments in basketball in recent years centers around the best franchise and best player in the post-Michael Jordan era. Those arguments always boil down to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs and their two legendary stars, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
The franchises have won 10 combined championships over the last 16 seasons and the Spurs swept the young Lakers on the way to their first ring in 1999. That loss apparently motivated Bryant to step his game up.
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Bryant credits the Spurs with forcing him to raise his game:
“They forced me to raise my game to a championship level very quickly because of the way they played,” Bryant said of the Spurs. “The systematic approach to the game, their thinking on sequences, they play such a mental game. They play such a mistake-free game. It forced me at a really early age to step up to their level.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich disagrees with that notion, however, giving Bryant all of the credit for his ascension:
“You look at those guys who really understood footwork and balance and timing and an uncanny intelligence for the game,” Popovich said. “When you add his abilities and competitiveness, you got quite a package. So I don’t think it had anything to do with San Antonio. He was of the mindset that he wanted to be great and he did it.”
Bryant has called the Spurs one of the toughest teams he faced throughout his career and the two teams have squared of plenty of times in the playoffs. The Lakers own the head-to-head advantage over the Spurs 4-3, but the Spurs won the most recent meeting, sweeping the Lakers in 2013.
Bryant is one of the players who finds motivation in everything and the Spurs continual greatness was one thing that forced him to always be at his best. Ultimately, that led to him winning five rings, so the motivation worked.