Kobe Bryant talks about guarding Allen Iverson - “No one knew how much this challenge meant to me”

Kobe Bryant wrote a 2017 piece for The Players Tribune entitled "Obsession is Natural". In that first-person article, Bryant talked about how he 'obsessively hunted' Allen Iverson after AI frustrated him after a regular season game in Philadelphia.

Bryant was picked 13th overall in the same draft, whereas Iverson was selected first overall by Kobe's hometown Sixers. Not that he was jealous of AI, but Bryant was a player who never wanted anyone to get the better of him.

The piece began with Kobe comparing his output with AI's production on November 12th, 1996. He said Iverson scored 35 in a win over the Knicks that night. Meanwhile, Bryant's Lakers won over the Rockets that same day, but Kobe logged in only five minutes and scored two points. Later, Kobe talked about how vital guarding Iverson in a game meant to him.

"On Feb 20th, 2000, in Philadelphia, PJ gave me the assignment of guarding AI at the start of the second half. No one knew how much this challenge meant to me. I wanted him to feel the frustration I felt. I wanted everyone who laughed at the 41 and 10 he put on me to choke on their laughter."

Iverson torched Kobe for 41 points in 1999

Kobe Bryant talked about the game on March 19th, 1999 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers in Philly. In that game, Iverson scored 41 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists, and 2 steals. Bryant, meanwhile, scored 23 points on 9-16 shooting while also grabbing 4 rebounds, issuing 2 assists, with 1 steal and 5 turnovers.

The Lakers lost to the Sixers 105-90, but it wasn't just that. It was Philly's most significant regular-season victory over the Lakers since beating them 113-93 on March 15th, 1978, and it was also the first time that the Sixers had won over the Lakers three straight times during the regular season since the 1982-83 season.

In that game, Iverson also outrebounded Shaquille O'Neal with 5 rebounds against Shaq's 4. AI also had more assists than anybody from the Lakers and was just four shy of L.A.'s total assists production. More than those, he scored 41 points with Kobe Bryant tasked to guard him, and that's what challenged Kobe Bryant.

Instead of a shootout, it was a shutdown

So Kobe said he studied how white sharks hunted seals to prepare for his next meeting with Iverson. That day came on February 20th in 2000, when the Lakers visited the Sixers in Philadelphia for the first of two head-to-head games played that season. But instead of watching the two stars go at it in a shootout, it was a shutdown.

"He would publicly say that neither of us could stop the other," added Bryant. "I refused to believe that. I score 50. You score zero. That is what I believe. When I started guarding AI, he had 16 at the half. He finished the game with 16. Revenge was sweet."

Coach Phil Jackson put Bryant on Iverson during the second half of the game. Kobe held AI to 0-11 field goal shooting while blocking three of his shots in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Bryant scored 8 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and sparked a 9-0 fourth-quarter run that helped them pick up the 87-84 win over the Sixers. It was sweet revenge indeed for Bryant over Iverson.