It’s not often that players are able to face off with their idols, especially in their first ever NBA game, but that was the case for Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic.
The big man, then with the Denver Nuggets, took the floor in his preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. Of course at that time, Kobe was entering the twilight of his career so many young players entering the league grew up watching him.
Still one of the most popular players internationally, it makes sense that Nurkic would idolize Bryant. Nurkic recently appeared on SportsCenter to speak about his season and career.
He took time to reminisce about playing against the Lakers legend in his first game and his emotions afterward:
“It was crazy, man. It was really crazy. My debut was against the Lakers in San Diego. … So I go in the game and the first thing I was looking for is how I can guard him. The first pick-and-roll was like, ‘Switch.’ And then whatever happens. It was a tremendous experience. After the game it was like, man, ‘Did I really play in the game?’ We had a player section in the plane, and there’s coaching staff and media. I couldn’t cry in the player section because I’m not that type of person, so I walked all the way down to the end and sit down in the last seat. I was like, ‘I didn’t play, man.’ It was a dream. It was really like a dream come true. It was definitely a great moment.”
It’s normal for players to remember their first game, but when it comes against someone like Bryant it makes it even easier to remember every single detail. Nurkic wasn’t able to make a huge impression unfortunately, shooting just 1-for-8 and finishing with two points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
These days Nurkic has played a huge role in keeping the Trail Blazers in the top half of the Western Conference and is one of the most physical bigs in the league. But he’ll likely never forget his first game and facing his idol.