Throughout Kobe Bryant’s unprecedented 20-year career, he faced many elite defenders in the NBA, coming in all shapes and sizes. One lengthy defender the Los Angeles Lakers legend played against during multiple playoff series’ was Kenyon Martin, both with the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets.
Martin, with his agility and explosiveness, was able to guard smaller scorers thanks in part to his athleticism. The 2003-04 All-Star enjoyed a lengthy 15-year NBA career, playing alongside future Hall-of-Famers like Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups. He built quite the reputation during his NBA career as a hard-nosed defender and rim protector that wasn’t afraid of getting physical.
The 2000-01 All-Rookie selection sat down for an interview with Ryan Ward of ClutchPoints.com, where he discussed his stance on the whole Bryant versus LeBron James debate. Martin, who had experience guarding both, explained why he chose Bryant:
“I played against Kobe a lot,” Martin told ClutchPoints. “More than I did LeBron. Battled in the Finals and in the Western Conference year in and year out for a long seven years.
“It’s what I see basketball-wise. I just like Kobe’s mentality. I like the way he approached the game. People took it as I was taking shots at LeBron. Not taking shots at LeBron. If I could have both of them, I’m [expletive] taking both of them, but they asked me to pick. So I picked Kobe.
Martin’s decision lines up with his first-hand experience against Bryant and his killer demeanor. Bryant often referred to the ‘Mamba Mentality’, which encompassed his desire to be the best he could be. Countless teammates and opponents often referred to Bryant’s work ethic, which involved little rest and pushing himself to incredible lengths.
While some may take his explanation as choosing sides, Martin described his decision using his own personal experience:
“LeBron’s skill set is immaculate. Numbers great. All of that, but if I’m starting a team, I’m starting it with Kobe Bryant. That’s my guy. He’s the one I battled with the most and who I looked at as the ultimate competitor.”
After facing him his whole career, Martin experienced true heartbreak due to Bryant. He faced the Lakers in the 2002 NBA Finals when he was with the Nets, and in the 2009 Western Conference Finals with the Nuggets, suffering losses to Bryant both times.