A smirk on his face, Carmelo Anthony turned his head to the floor and said the same words three consecutive times.
“The greatest,” he said. “The greatest, the greatest.”
In an Aug. 19 appearance with former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on “All The Smoke,” a podcast on “the most polarizing topics in and around the game of basketball” on Showtime, Anthony was quick to throw that praise on Kobe Bryant, who would have turned 43 years old on Monday.
Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, and Anthony had a “very close” relationship, according to the latter player, who said their bond grew significantly as teammates on the United State’s men’s basketball team during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
MORE: Celebrating Kobe Bryant’s life, legacy and impact
But there were not always pleasant exchanges between the two. Arguably their most memorable matchup came during the 2009 Western Conference Finals, when Bryant’s Lakers defeated Anthony’s Nuggets in six games. Anthony said he and Bryant “became close on some disrespectful s— ” during that time, a product of their well-known desire to compete.
“You know Kob, man, he going at your neck,” Anthony said. “He’s saying s— to you, elbowing you. I had my braids back then too, so he’s touching my head. I’m like, ‘What the f— are you doing? Don’t touch my head.’ You know what I’m saying? Like, ‘Don’t touch me no more, dawg.’”
Anthony added that when the two faced each other in that series, they had an exchange in which they embraced and shared a battle cry: “It’s war.”
“I just remember him, he always would tell me, ‘I’ll guard you in the fourth (quarter),” Anthony said. “They ain’t going to make no calls on me. They ain’t going to call no s— on me in the fourth.’”
Over the course of that series, Anthony and Bryant traded huge blows, unwilling to capitulate to each other’s physicality. As Bryant promised, he guarded Anthony in the most critical moments, and vice versa.
Here are some of the moments in which they thumped against each other during Game 1, which the Lakers won 105-103.
Despite Anthony’s unwillingness to back down from Bryant, his Nuggets lost three of the final four contests of the conference finals after they won Game 2. Anthony averaged 27.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists in that series on 40.7 percent shooting (25.0 percent from 3-point range).
Bryant averaged 34.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 48.1 percent shooting (34.4 percent from 3-point range) against the Nuggets and went on to win his fourth of five career NBA titles that season, as the Lakers defeated the Magic in five games in the NBA Finals.
Despite coming up short against Bryant, Anthony said their mutual respect never wavered. He said Bryant called him “a bad motherf—” in the Olympics, and Bryant even said Anthony was more difficult for him to guard than current Laker superstar forward LeBron James in a previous interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.
“Melo (former Celtics forward), Paul Pierce (Nets forward Kevin), Durant has really developed it — layers that can shoot the long ball, have a great mid-range game,” Bryant said. “Have a great post-up game, turnaround, left shoulder turnaround, right shoulder turnaround. Melo does it all and he’s strong as a bull. For me, I weigh [180 pounds], soaking wet, going up against that bull, man. So it’s fun but it’s extremely challenging.”
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