The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have had multiple peaks and valleys within their iconic rivalry, but one of the most heated periods was when Kobe Bryant was lasered in on taking out the “Big Three/Four” Boston teams helmed by Doc Rivers.
That Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce-centric outfit knocked off Bryant’s Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, leading the superstar to drive L.A. back to the Finals and beat the Magic in 2009 before scratching and clawing past the Celtics to repeat in seven games in 2010.
Bryant’s competitiveness is the stuff of legend, and he was never friendly with the Celtics during the midst of that rivalry. Rivers remembers that, and he explained to Ian Thomsen that his hard-driving sense of competition in large part would make Bryant appreciate a nickname that otherwise would carry a negative connotation:
“Kobe would absolutely love that. I had a conversation with Kobe this summer, and it was forever. I mean, we just talked and talked and talked. If I saw Kobe in the summer of 2009, that conversation would’ve been one second, tops. I had a friend with me and he was like, ‘I didn’t know you and Kobe were that close.’ And I said we’re not. We couldn’t be. He acknowledges your existence and he would never disrespect you with something he said, he’s just not going to give you the time of day because he wants to beat you. He wants to be on your level or above that level. I’ve always respected that.
Tiger Woods was a bastard in that way. Kobe is, Kevin Garnett is, Russell Westbrook is, you could go down the line. Bill Russell was when he played. Now you look at Bill and he has this great personality, but that wasn’t Bill when he played. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, people still don’t like because of the way he carried himself. But they all were winners. They prepare, they’re tough, they drive, and that’s what makes them great.”
Rivers has coached and played with a lot of great players, and countless more less great ones, and so as much as Lakers fans might hate him, he has as much insight into what makes truly great players tick as anyone.
And while Rivers will never be a fan-favorite in Los Angeles due to his ties to the Celtics, one thing Lakers fans surely can agree with him is just how competitive Bryant was. They saw it up close for two decades, and that it was a huge part of what made him great, even if he’s apparently been able to let some old grudges die in retirement.