The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have one of sport’s greatest rivalries. And although neither team has been to an NBA Finals since 2010, it seeing the teams and Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce clash in 2008 and 2010 re-established the rivalry and kept it alive all these years.
Since the tragic passing of Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others in a helicopter crash, Pierce has been one of many to bridge the gap of the rivalry and pay endless respect to the Black Mamba.
Pierce on a number of occasions has said that his respect for Bryant on and off the court was immense, despite the history and fierce competitiveness their two teams shared.
Pierce again spoke about his respect for Bryant recently, explaining the deep level of their relationship and admiration, via Norm Elrod of CBS and KCAL:
“I played mad against everybody, but him,” said Pierce. “We always just had a different type of relationship. I think it was more out of respect too. Everybody else, I pretty much couldn’t care less about. It seemed that way, off the court. Just to have the opportunity to match up with him, know him on-and-off the court was special. It made me who I am, pretty much.”
After Bryant’s death, countless players spoke about the love and respect they had for him, even if they were supposed to harbor some resentment or negative feelings. Pierce is the prime example of this.
On the surface, Pierce wouldn’t necessarily be expected to have this type of admiration for Bryant, as a lifelong Celtic who played in two finals against the Lakers and lost one of them. Those types of rivalries usually breed hatred, as did the Lakers-Celtics finals in the 1980s.
However, Bryant just had something about him that made it easy to respect and admire him, and it could defuse any rivalry. The more removed we get from Bryant’s death, he’ll likely be talked about a little bit less every day.
However, stories like this will continue to keep the conversation alive, and it shows just how incredible Bryant’s legacy is.