The legacies of Allen Iverson and the late Kobe Bryant will forever be intertwined.
After two seasons at Georgetown University, Iverson was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. 12 picks later, Bryant - who went to Lower Merion High School, which is just outside of Philadelphia - was selected by the Charlotte Hornets, before ultimately being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The two would combine for 29 All-Star Game appearances, 21 All-NBA selections, six scoring titles and two NBA MVPs. When you add in that the 1996 NBA Draft also included Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Marcus Camby, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, Derek Fisher, Jermaine O'Neal and Antoine Walker, some consider it to be the deepest NBA Draft class ever.
Notably, Iverson and Bryant met in the 2000-2001 NBA Finals, with the Lakers ultimately winning the series in five games, the second of three consecutive NBA titles. In that series, Iverson and Bryant did quite a bit of jawing with each other, with Iverson averaging a series-high 35.6 points per game in a series that ended with Bryant and series MVP Shaquille O'Neal hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
In a way similar to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Iverson and Bryant developed a mutual respect and eventual friendship as their careers and lives continued. With that friendship in mind, Iverson issued a heartfelt Instagram post that featured an image of Bryant and his oldest daughter, Gigi, both of whom were among nine killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California Sunday:
"Words cannot express how I'm feeling today. The only two words that ring in my head - devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I've tried to do since hearing this yesterday.
People will always remember how we competed against each other in the league, but it goes so much deeper than that for me. The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the history of the NBA can be debated for many years to come. However, his generosity and respect for the game is something that I witnessed first hand every time we stepped on the floor to compete.
It's one memory of him that I can't stop thinking about. It was our rookie season and my first trip to Los Angeles for a game against the Lakers. He came to my hotel, picked me up and took me to a restaurant. When we returned, before he left he asked me "What are you going to do tonight?". My reply was "I'm going to the club, what are you going to do?". He said "I'm going to the gym." That is who he always was, a true student of the game of basketball and also the game of life. He prepared relentlessly. There is something we can all learn from the "Mamba" mentality and from the way my brother lived his life. He will always have my respect as a competitor, as a friend, as a brother.
My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Vanessa, their children and the families of all of the victims of yesterday's tragedy. As a father, I cannot wrap my head around how they must feel.
We are not okay. But we will find the strength to pull through this together because that's what Kobe would want us to do."
Iverson, 44, was inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016. Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will all become eligible for election in 2020.