During his 14-year NBA career, Tony Allen was named to six All-Defensive teams and nicknamed The Grindfather for his abilities as one of the toughest defenders in the league.
But on the 22nd. In February 2005, he was a 24-year-old rookie guard with an unenviable task ahead of him: Kobe Bryant close.
I was really angry, Allen told ESPN. I had Paul Pierce in my ear and said: Get ready! They beat me every day [in practice]. You have to be ready. Let’s go! It’s Kobe Bryant!
The No. 25 overall pick in the 2004 draft tried to cover everything and prepare for the 54th pick. Game of his young NBA career.
I try to stand firm and say to myself: I’m not afraid, Allen said.
He was now drenched in sweat, his palms and armpits sweating so badly that he had to change his warm-up shirt. When Allen finally came face to face with Bryant, he realized what he was dealing with.
I’m here, I tell you: What do you want me to do? Says Allen.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the first game on the set piece and quickly put the ball in the hands of Bryant, who was isolated on the right wing. Allen took a defensive stance and extended his left hand to chase Bryant.
Bryant passed the ball in front of Allen’s outstretched arm, committed a foul and went to the free throw line with 16 seconds left in the game. Less than two minutes later, the scene was rehearsed: Allen, an inexperienced rookie, had no choice but to draft Bryant, then a three-time NBA champion.
At 9:55 of the end of the first quarter, Allen is back on the bench of the Boston Celtics. At the end of the fourth quarter, Allen is back on the court and returns with Bryant. The Lakers led at 2:39 when Bryant picked one of his iconic high jumpers. Allen slides a hand over Bryant’s face – and into his arm. Basket. Wrong. The game is over… Literally, in Allen’s case.
I left in eight minutes, Allen said. I was like a deer in the headlights.
Tony Allen’s first meeting with Kobe Bryant did not go well for the Celtics rookie at the time. Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Exactly 11 months after beating Allen, Bryant achieved the feat of his 20-year career: an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors, surpassed in NBA history only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 masterpiece of 100 points.
Allen was part of a long line of defenders – some elite, others less so – charged with stopping the unstoppable. On the eve of the 15th. On the 50th anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game, some sat down with ESPN to talk about the monumental task they faced every time they played with the Bryant Lakers.
Seeing the date on the calendar, Allen said you had sweaty hands.
Kobe Bryant averaged 28.6 PPGs in 37 regular season games against Shane Battier. David Santiago/Miami Herald via Getty Images
The BLACK MAMBA is considered the fastest, most athletic and deadliest snake in the world. The way it can slice, twist, lift and dodge predators is unmatched.
The black mamba is relentless. He has complete control over every aspect of his attack. Each maneuver is fully calculated.
Metta Sandiford-Artest, the 2004 NBA defender, often tried to silence Bryant before becoming her teammate for five seasons. It doesn’t matter if you are the worst or the best player on the opposing team.
Shane Battier knew that feeling well. The two-time NBA champion was a two-time NBA champion. In his prime, he was known as an elite defender who prided himself on his intense training – which was taken to another level when he faced Bryant.
All my family and friends knew not to contact me the day before or on the day of the Kobe game, Battier said. You never know if this is the night he decided. You know what? I’m going to embarrass the man holding me… which I think he tried to do.
During the 2007-08 season, Battier and his Houston Rockets had one of the most incredible winning seasons in NBA history. Despite the absence of stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Houston won 21 straight games when Bryant and the Lakers met on the 16th. March has come to town. Kobe would come to Houston to end the series, Battier said. Pau [Petrol] is out of the game. So do I: Oh, my God! This guy is going to shoot the bullet 40 times.
No, not really. Bryant only fired the bullet 33 times.
NBA fans will remember this game as a hand in the face. Battier used this technique for most of his career, starting with his All-American period at Duke. But the game against Bryant made him famous.
Shane Battier’s hand-to-hand technique was common when he faced Kobe Bryant. Andrew D. Bernstein/NVAE via Getty Images.
Coby, he left it all behind, Battier says. I’ve never been more tired than I was after that game.
Bryant scored 24 points, but the Rockets kept winning. This is one of Bryant’s weaknesses in his 37 regular season games with Battier. In these games, he averaged 28.6 points, including a trio of 50 points. Bryant was such an intense competitor that Battier decided it was best to use that against him.
All I wanted to do was push the button hard enough to say You know what, Coby – without telling him, because we never talked about garbage – try hitting him in the face with your hand. And for the most part, he did.
Bryant took every bit of motivation. Knowing this, Battier tried a different approach than his contemporaries.
Over time, whether it’s Raja Bell, Reuben Patterson or one of Kobe’s so-called stoppers, it’s become a macho one-on-one match, Battier said. I’m a cool guy, but I’m not as cool as these guys. So I did the opposite. I almost tried to play like Eeyore [Winnie the Pooh]. Every time I played Kobe, I said to myself: I’m a good player. He just didn’t shoot. I’m a happy man.
When you saw [Kobe Bryant] on the calendar, you had sweaty palms, Tony Allen said. Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Image
After his first performance with Bryant, Allen vowed that this embarrassment would never happen to him again. His preparation was central to his defensive abilities. Especially when he knew he’d run into Bryant.
I had tunnel vision, Allen said. I only focused on Kobe.
If I knew I was going to play with him, I would come home after practice, eat and rewind the tapes of his plays. Wake up in the morning, stretch out and watch more movies.
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a plane crash on the 26th. January 2020.
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is the longest flight in Laker history.
For a moment he felt he had found the rhythm of the Black Mamba.
I always paid attention to the fake head, Allen said. He always turned away from you, he turned around, he turned around, and then all these heads of scythes appeared. It’s a fake fourth head. I knew I had to be ready to jump.
They met 24 times in the regular season and another 10 times in the playoffs, splitting those games 17-17 (and splitting their last series 1-1). Although Allen knew what was coming, he acknowledged that Bryant is always very successful when it comes to scoring against him, as he has a 25.8 PPG average on the face-off.
He hit me and the coaches shook their heads, Allen said. My reaction was this: Yo! Go away and try to keep him!
Neither Jalen Rose nor any other Raptor could stop Kobe Bryant at the 22nd. January 2006. Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images.
JALEN ROUSE has heard all the jokes about the 81 points. He even made a commercial about it. But ask him and he’ll tell you that the Raptors were very successful that day.
If anyone tries to tease me, I say he wasn’t even 100 years old, Rose says with a laugh.
What sticks most to the Rose game is not the number of points scored, but Bryant’s reaction to the announcement of a number that no one has come close to since.
When you come back and watch the game, he wasn’t walking on the field, he was making airplane wings, beating his chest and pointing to the sky, Rose recalls. Actually, he didn’t say a word.
The Mamba mentality, Rose says.
Slowing Bryant down on a random Sunday in January was pretty difficult. But what happens when the calendar shifts to April, May and June?
Playing him in a playoff series was a different animal, Battier said. Every playoff game is like a season. There was no better challenge.
Rose sat in the front row to watch legend Kobe Bryant take flight in the 2000 NBA Finals and nearly changed the course of Bryant’s career. Less than nine minutes into the second game of the Lakers series against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant is isolated on the left side by Rose. The 21-year-old Lakers star rushed for a suspension shot and Rose slid her foot into Bryant’s landing zone – a play that is now a clear violation under the rules.
One of the things that has happened in my career that I don’t think is cute or proud of, Rose said. I come from a time when you would do anything to win. We also quickly realized that we couldn’t keep it. This guy is something else. So I pretended to challenge a barrage shot and deliberately put it on my foot. I didn’t want him to break his ankle. But I wouldn’t mind if he missed the next few games because we’d have a better chance of winning.
Kobe’s way, Rose continued, this guy just missed a game.
Whenever there was a trial of Bryant, opponents never knew which version of Kobe they would see on any given night. Sometimes it was far away, frozen. No jokes will be exchanged. Other nights he was in a playful mood. He would fraternize with you and then swing for 50.
It was the kind of mental game we played with each other, Battier said. I never tried to contact him.
Allen said he would prefer Bryant stay out of the conflict. This helped him focus on the task at hand. At times, the warm Bryant has deceived his opponents, including Allen.
Sometimes he would come out and say: What’s up, baby? It’s a dismissal, Allen shouted. He had a few games like that, and he hit me on the head.
Don’t fall for it! He’s just trying to rub you in, Rose added.
It is the dichotomy of Bryant being presented as the antagonist.
As dynamic and subtle as Kobe is, most people probably think he can’t get dirty, Allen said. The guy there gets an offensive foul and makes an elbow in the nose or neck.
Allen paused and smiled and said: He was a very confident, stubborn and arrogant player. He knew he was the bigger player. I wanted to compete with that mentality.
It took that attitude to watch Black Mamba.
Inside, I was a raging bull when Battier talked about his performance. I wanted to beat him more than anyone.
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