Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press
A groin injury is keeping Lillard out of Sunday’s superstar showcase—don’t worry, Dame D.O.L.L.A. is still performing Saturday night—but that doesn’t make him less of an All-Star. And like most of his Chicago-bound peers, he has at least one Kobe Bryant experience that stands out.
In this case, it was a “welcome to the NBA” moment. He recounted the interaction in 2014:
“The very first game against the Lakers, Kobe was making all these crazy shots. We double-teamed him, triple-teamed him sometimes. We tried to make sure every shot that he took was tough. And in my head, I was like, ‘He’s eventually going to start missing. The shot’s going to stop falling eventually.’
“But I guess that’s just a college thing where eventually shots just stop falling, because he kept making them. Fadeaway over two people, fadeaway from three, pull-up jumper with two hands in his face—he’s just making it. And it was just one of those times where I was like, ‘When a guy in the league gets hot, I guess this is just how it is. There’s nothing you can do about it.'”
During an April 2013 appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Lillard added another “welcome to the NBA” moment brought to him by Kobe (via Complex’s Jose Martinez):
“I think our last game in L.A. was probably the time where I had that because it was a pretty close game and I scored a few buckets and the crowd was into it. Kobe was killin’, and he went to the free-throw line, and they needed those free throws. I told him, I said, ‘Kobe, I just need you to miss one,’ and he just kind of ignored me and just stayed focused, and he went and made both free throws. And then there was a timeout, and I remember walking back on the floor and he walked past me, and he tapped me on the back and said, ‘This isn’t my first rodeo, rook.’
This all seems on-brand for pre-twilight Kobe. His maniacal work ethic and killer instincts never wavered, but he became more of a teddy-bear figure to the kids by the end of his career. Lillard might’ve received a slightly less snarky welcome if he entered the league two or three seasons later.
Or maybe not.
Booker’s Kobe experience is more tightly knit than others. He grew up idolizing the five-time champion, and the two developed a relationship.
Kobe was on his way out by the time Booker entered the league, but that didn’t prevent him from reciprocating the respect. After his final game in Phoenix, he gave the then-19-year-old a signed pair of his shoes with the message “Be Legendary” also scrawled across.
To say Booker was elated would be an understatement. As he told reporters at the time:
“It’s just something I will remember for the rest of my life and I can tell my kids about. I remember me catching the ball, and I had it in kind of the short post. And I missed the shot, but I used one of his moves against him, and that’s the first thing he said against me. ‘You’re trying to use my own move against me?’ He said that right at the end of the game, so it was fun. That was the only time we matched up, but like I said it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Anybody else catch feelz? Because I caught feelz.