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August 24, 2020

Allen Iverson pens tribute to 'fiercest competitor' Kobe Bryant on 8/24

Sixers great remembers late NBA star in essay for The Players Tribune

It's an odd coincidence that the late Kobe Bryant's birthday was August 23 and the two jersey numbers that honor him are 8-24, representing the digits he wore during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nearly seven months after Bryant, his daughter and seven others died in a southern California helicopter crash, his birthday and jersey day have marked another moment of remembrance for the NBA legend.

On Monday, Hall of Famer and Sixers great Allen Iverson wrote a tribute to Bryant for The Players Tribune, reflecting on the larger-than-life determination Bryant displayed during his career.

The depth of the relationship between Iverson and Bryant is demonstrated by the former's use of his own high school nick name, Chuck, throughout the essay. The nickname Bubba Chuck was given to A.I. by his friends growing up in Hampton, Virginia, and apparently it was the name Bryant often used to refer to his friend and competitor.

For Sixers fans, Iverson and Bryant are most vividly remembered together for their dual in the 2001 NBA Finals, but Iverson illustrates here that they had a much wider impact on each other than that series.

Me and you, every single time we stepped on that floor, we were going to war. But it wasn’t an animosity thing. There was never any beef. It was like heavyweight fighters beating the hell out of one another. And then at the bell, it’s nothing but love and respect. Greatness needs company, and we needed each other. Mike needed Prince like Prince needed Mike. Tyson needed Holyfield like Holyfield needed Tyson.

Everybody needs that person to say, Oh, you’re the sh*t, huh? Well I’m the sh*t, too.

And boy, you were the sh*t. You were the toughest man that I’ve ever seen in this game. The most cold-blooded serial killer I’ve ever seen. The fiercest competitor I’ve ever seen. I remember hearing the story that you were on the road, and you were watching the highlights of me dropping 35 on the Knicks at the Garden our rookie year, and you got so mad that you smashed up the hotel room and you started researching me like you were in the CIA. “GET ME THE FILE ON A.I.” — I bet it was like that. Studying how great white sharks hunt down seals in the Pacific Ocean and whatnot.   []

Throughout the anecdotes, it becomes clear how dearly Iverson misses Bryant and how much his drive was an inspiration. The eulogy speaks as much to Iverson's admiration as it does to his belief that Kobe's example made him a better player and man.

My kids used to be hitting me talking about how they want the Kobe Adidases when they came out!!!! They were rocking number 8 and number 24, because you were one of their heroes. And if I’m being honest about it? You were a hero to me, too. Even though you were younger than me, I looked up to you because of how much you sacrificed, how much you gave to this game.  []

Iverson was among numerous athletes, celebrities and fans who paid tribute to Bryant on Sunday and Monday, from Vanessa Bryant to Shaquille O'Neil, LeBron James, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and even Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, who wore Bryant's Lower Merion High School jersey to practice on Sunday. 

To honor Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakes will wear their "Black Mamba" alternate jerseys for Monday night's playoff game against the Portland Trailblazers.