With Kobe Bryant missing the Lakers’ loss to the Sacramento Kings this week, he missed his last chance to face off against one of his most bitter rivals… in Rajon Rondo.
After the game, Rondo was asked by ESPN to describe Bryant in one word? He said: “Competitor. Ultimate competitor — two words.”
Rondo, who is now the Kings’ point guard, infamously faced Kobe in two NBA Finals (2008 and 2010), both of which took place when he played for the Boston Celtics. What he remembers most is how much of a competitor the NBA legend was.
“I don’t have a lot of friends,” Rondo told ESPN. “I’m just friends with a lot of a**holes: Kobe, DeMarcus [Cousins], Josh Smith, Big Baby [Glen Davis]. We’re the same kind. What I love about all of us is we’re competitors on and off the court. Hate to lose. I’m not going to say there’s not many competitors in this game, but there’s a certain kind of way you compete at that level and you have respect for one another.
“One of the best competitors of all time that I’ve ever played against,” he added. “Even watching him against LeBron [James] the other day, [Bryant] might be of age, when it’s time to compete and the lights are on, he always shows up … even when he didn’t play well.”
Rondo was later asked if a specific memory of Bryant stood out, to which he recalled an instance when he shoved Kobe and Kobe threateningly pointed his finger in Rondo’s face.
“I can’t say what he said,” he explained. “I thrive off of that. I wanted the challenge. He pissed me off a little bit when he did that. I felt disrespected and I wanted to go back at him — and we beat ’em. Then two years later they beat us.”
Rondo added, “That’s basketball. That’s not old basketball, because they got to fight without any fines. But you’re not friends on the court when you’re out there competing trying to dominate from time to time. It might get ugly from time to time. At the end of the day you shake hands, maybe, and you have a certain respect.”