Throughout Kobe Bryant’s 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, there were certain players who felt they could guard one of the greatest players of all time.
While Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace got physical with Bryant, none of the matchups got more personal than perhaps the one with Raja Bell.
It all started in the 2001 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers and reached its peak in the 2005 and 2006 NBA playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. Between all of the trash-talking to the media, most will remember Bell clotheslining Bryant in Game 5 after head coach Phil Jackson’s comments.
Since then, Bryant and Bell nearly teamed up during the 2010-11 NBA season, and the latter discussed how the relationship has slowly evolved, via Drew Ruiz of HoopsHype:
“There were a lot on the court. We traded a lot of elbows and a lot of smack-talking and whatnot, but some of my favorite memories are when I go back and we were skewing through the media at that time. I don’t know how Kobe felt, but I genuinely hated the cat at that time. I really didn’t like him. Then the coolest part about it for me was once the time had passed and I saw him the next time, we started to develop a little bit of respect. There was a relationship that started to develop. We never became besties or anything like that, but there was a time when I’d reach out and see if he needed anything or somewhere to be for Thanksgiving if they were in town or I’d ask about his family and just check in. I felt that was pretty cool. That was my favorite part about that whole thing. There seemed to be a respect level that we got to and when you can say you did that with one of the best players of all time that’s pretty cool for me.
Within the competition, there is a mutual respect that develops between Bryant and these type of players who are willing to challenge him.
After the 2009 Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, World Peace signed with the Lakers despite all the elbows thrown at each other. And just one season later in a regular season game against the Orlando Magic, Barnes also signed despite nearly throwing the basketball at Bryant’s face, who did not flinch.
Although many players were deemed ‘Kobe stoppers,’ Bryant was simply unguardable throughout his career.