Kendrick Perkins, like many others in the basketball world, was devastated when he learned about the passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
Although the two were on opposite sides of one of the greatest rivalries in sports, they went on to develop a relationship that extended beyond basketball. But that didn’t mean Perkins enjoyed playing against Bryant.
“It was unbelievable,” Perkins said on Dale and Keefe. “But, the thing is, as an opponent, you hated Kobe. You hated him. You disliked him. And that’s how it was supposed to be. I’m pretty sure a lot of people hated me or couldn’t stand me. But, (I) couldn’t stand Kobe. But, you had to respect him. He made you respect him. He earned everyone’s respect. You might not have liked him, but you had to respect what he brought to the table on the basketball court.
“(There’s) not another person that has mental toughness like he has. He’s the only guy that I’ve seen get through adversity like no other. He turns the negative into a positive. He’s built for it. Just think, him going through his legal case when he was dealing with that situation in Colorado. His life was on the line. He was literally on the borderline of losing it all. We could’ve been having a whole different story of Kobe Bryant doing X amount years in jail. It could have been that. And he was leaving the courtroom and actually flying to go play in games and dropping 40. Like, do you know how mentally tough you have to be to do that?”
Bryant’s relentlessness, along with his skill, naturally made him one of the toughest players to guard in the history of the game.
“When we were in the finals, during them Laker-Celtics days, when I was with the Celtics, we had come to the conclusion in the locker room that we were going to guard Kobe, but we were just going to let him get his because the only person that’s stopping Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant, and you just got to pray that he has an off night. And we were going to just shutout everybody else.”
And while Perkins developed immense respect for Bryant, the former Celtics center found out the Laker guard had a lot of respect for him, as well. Oddly enough, Perkins found this out in the summer after the Celtics beat Bryant’s Lakers in the NBA Finals.
“I was going into a night club (in Las Vegas) and I was standing outside the nightclub getting ready to go in and I just felt somebody come behind, just bear hug me tight around where I couldn’t move and he was like, ‘What’s up Perk? What’s up, my boy?’ And I turned around, it was Kobe. And I instantly got chills,” Perkins said. “Like, ‘Hold on. Kobe just — I thought he didn’t like me, man. Like, he just really came and embraced me.’ He was like, ‘Man, people don’t even know. I brag about you all the time, man. You the best post defender and best anchor I (have) ever seen on the defensive end as a big. Man, I got much respect.’ So, right then, I’m like, ‘Oh damn. Man, Kobe Bryant just gave me some props?’ Here I am as a Celtic, we just went through a heated battle with you and I’m like, ‘That just made my day.’”
Getting to see him from afar, while developing a friendship later on in their careers, Perkins knew Bryant would have continued with his winning ways in retirement.
“I feel like the world is being cheated,” Perkins said. “Because, the second coming of Kobe, life after basketball, I feel like he was about to take over. And it was in a whole other direction. He went from, basically as an opponent, being the most hated guy to being like an icon. A figure where guys were like, ‘I want to be like Kobe right now.’”