Kobe Bryant spent 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, a rare achievement in the NBA’s era of free agency.
On top of being one of the NBA’s all-time great players, Bryant’s career in Purple-and-Gold was anything but ordinary.
Bryant amassed a lifetime worth of severe enemies, normal enemies, adversaries and foes, and people he simply tolerated (we all know Bryant doesn’t have any real friends).
Bryant gained instant fame and notoriety after being acquired by the Lakers in a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets. The son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe was a part of the mid-90’s invigoration of high school talent – along with players like Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, and Tracy McGrady – that decided to bypass college and head straight to the NBA.
Bryant shared many of the same competitive traits with the hyper-active Garnett (the two would square off in 51 career regular season games against one another, and 25 more in the playoffs), yet Bryant’s path to five NBA championships, one MVP Award, and two Finals MVP Awards, was about as up-and-down as a season of Game of Thrones.
After being selected by the Lakers in a trade that sent the team’s starting center in Vlade Divac (a trade that nearly was nixed by Divac), Bryant was immediately paired with a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal (brought in as a free agent from the Orlando Magic).
The two would go onto make magic on the court – winning three titles in a row – yet the question remains, ‘just how more could the Lakers have won had the two gotten along?’
Despite being six years younger than O’Neal, Bryant eventually fought O’Neal for leadership control of the team, and by the time the Detroit Pistons finished off the Lakers in the 2004 title game, the fued had reached its boiling point.
Phil Jackson – another enigmatic feature player in Braynt’s Hollywood reel – was fired, and O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. A day after O’Neal’s departure to South Beach, Bryant bypassed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers (oh, what could have been), instead, re-upping with the Lakers, and affectionately making the Lakers Bryant’s team.
Bryant would team up with Jackson for two more titles, while he and O’Neal would battle against one another on and off the court for the remainder of their careers.
The two would “clear the air” in a 2015 podcast, yet the dirty laundry aired out over the years is enough to make a full reconciliation between the two impossible.
There’s a reason this list has more Hate and less Love for Braynt. Here are eight players the Black Mamba absolutely hated and seven he loved.
17 Hated: Reggie Miller
It’s easy to forget that the sharp-shooting Reggie Miller and a No. 8 wearing Bryant engaged in a pre-Malice at the Palace fight back in 2002 (fortunately YouTube remembers).
The two lanky scoring guards physically went at it after the final buzzer sounded in a regular season game, a couple of years removed from the Lakers title win against Miller’s Indiana Pacers.
Following the retirement of Michael Jordan in 1998, the 1999-00 title chance was Miller’s one and only shot at a championship ring, and despite the then 34-year-old Miller’s 24 points per game against the Lakers in their series, a then 21-year-old Bryant squashed Miller’s hopes and aspirations with a 28-point performance (8 points in overtime) with O’Neal fouled out for a majority of the action.
Perhaps outside of the thrown fisticuffs, the hatred is truly one-sided.
Yet, even a retired Miller isn’t sure about how he feels about Bryant.
“I love him, I hate him, and I respect him,” Miller has said previously.
16 Loved: Matt Barnes
Sure, Matt Barnes and Bryant got tangled up with each other during a 2009-10 game between the Magic and Lakers (in fairness, Barnes has gotten tangled up with everyone in the NBA).
That would tend to make you believe that Bryant doesn’t think too highly of Barnes – although the two were teammates for two non-title winning seasons – but Bryant owes a lot of his mythical and Jedi-like powers to Barnes.
When Barnes faked his inbounds pass directly in front of Bryant’s face, the entire world flinched; not Bryant.
Bryant stared straight back at a defeated, exhausted, and overreaching Barnes (putting too much time into his exertion as a bully and intimidator, in this case).
Said Bryant following the incident when asked why he didn’t flinch.
“I knew he wasn’t going to do [anything]. What should I flinch for?”
Cold-blooded for sure.
15 Hated: Nick Young
Bryant has never been known to be gun shy when looking to shoot the basketball. This is a man who once scored 81 points in a basketball game and outscored the Dallas Mavericks through three quarters in a game (although, in a fit of protest perhaps, he did once refuse to shoot in a Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns).
Imagine where a (presumably) cranky Bryant was on July 11, 2013, the day the Lakers signed Nick “Swaggy P” Young to a free agent deal?
By now you should realize that Bryant was of course getting up jump shots in a gym (by himself), not only in preparation for what would be his 18th season in the NBA, but also in preparation for sharing the ball for a notorious gunner himself in Young.
Bryant would only manage to play in six games that season due to a knee injury, and Bryant and Young would be in the lineup for just 47 games together in three seasons, yet it was clear from the get-go that Bryant would have little tolerance for the immature Young.
Young once tried to talk smack to Bryant during a practice; that didn’t end well for Young.
Young once also tried getting Bryant to sign his Adidas sneakers following Bryant’s 60-point career finale against the Utah Jazz.
A Nike stalwart, Bryant threw them straight in the trash.
14 Loved: Rajon Rondo
The two never played with each other – in fact, they played as arch rivals, Bryant with the Lakers, Rondo with the Celtics – yet it would have been easy to have imagined the ornery guards feeding off of one another.
Bryant and Rondo squared off in two separate Finals appearances (13 games in total) in 2008 and 2010, got heated during Feb. 2009 regular season game between the Lakers and Celtics, but found time to sneak in breakfast during a much-publicized breakfast during the 2014-15 season.
Like Bryant, Rondo is a competitor.
Also similar to Bryant, Rondo admits he doesn’t possess too many friends.
“I don't have a lot of friends,” Rondo told ESPN in March 2016. “I'm just friends with a lot of a--h---s: Kobe, DeMarcus [Cousins], Josh Smith, Big Baby [Glen Davis]. We're the same kind. What I love about all of us is we're competitors on and off the court. Hate to lose.”
13 Hated: Dwight Howard
Something about talented big men really gets Bryant angry.
Howard was supposed to be the Lakers next great big man, behind the likes of legends Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal.
Instead, fans were “treated” to 76 uninspired regular season games and a playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, a monumental letdown for a team that was supposed to do great things with Howard and Bryant teamed with Gasol and Steve Nash.
Howard clearly never had the mindset to compete alongside a ruthless competitor such as Bryant.
Said Bryant on Howard’s misconceptions on what it really takes to win a championship:
“I tried teaching Dwight. I tried showing him. But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship - and most perceptions of what it's like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you're friends all the time. That's the perception. And I think that's what his perception was of what the idea is. But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it's very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge. And I don't think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature. “
11 Loved: Michael Jordan
From their similar body types to their ringing tone of voice, Bryant and Jordan were similar players on the court.
Bryant was a late-game killer and overall competitor, that while didn’t exactly match Jordan’s, was about as close as they come.
The two played in only eight games against one another (including four when Jordan was on the Wizards), yet the comparisons never stopped.
The world was unfortunately robbed of many Jordan v. Kobe matchups for years to come. Instead, we’re all left to wonder what could have been had Jordan not retired in 1998.
As a sign of respect for Bryant, Hornets owner Jordan orchestrated a pregame tribute for Bryant during his final appearance in Charlotte. The love and respect between the two is clearly mutual.
10 Hated: Smush Parker & Kwame Brown
These two unfortunately get lumped together, as they both played with Bryant during his post-Shaq/pre-2008 Lakers teams, once notorious for showcasing Bryant’s shot-making, as well as shot-attempting skills.
Parker, an undrafted guard from Fordham, and Brown, the No. 1 pick in 2001 by MJ’s Washington Wizards, clearly weren’t up to Bryant’s standards as players on the court.
Brown – who had similar dealings with Jordan during their Wizards days – was often lambasted by Bryant, including a story in which, according to Bryant, Brown was too nervous to catch a basketball and make free throws during a regular season game against the Detroit Pistons.
Parker, who was also mentioned in this particular story from Bryant, was also apparently shunned from talking to the Mamba during practices when the two were teammates together.
According to Parker, “He [Kobe] told me one day at practice — I tried to talk to him outside of basketball about football. And he looked at me in practice and was dead serious and said, 'You can’t talk to me. You need more accolades under your belt before you come talk to me.'”
9 Loved: Byron Scott
Bryant and Byron Scott were actually teammates during Bryant’s rookie season in 1996, but that is not why Scott should be so loved by Bryant.
Scott was Bryant’s coach during the final two seasons of his career – seasons (or circus shows) in which Scott allowed an aging Brant to hijack the Lakers’ offense.
Bryant led the Lakers in field goal attempts per game, as well as usage percentage in those two seasons, which would have been fine in Bryant’s prime. Those two seasons – Bryant’s last three, in fact – were the absolute twilight of his career (Bryant was also averse to defense).
Instead of accepting a lesser role as a team leader for a young Lakers squad, Bryant tried to relive the glory days. And Scott enabled it.
8 Hated: Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen made a career out of being a dog (albeit, a dirty one) on defense.
Undrafted out of California State University, Fullerton, Bowen bounced around the league with stops in Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia, before becoming a key cog in Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs machine.
Bowen’s ascent as San Antonio’s starting small forward just so happened to coincide with the Lakers dominance in the 2000s.
Naturally, the Spurs’ best perimeter defender in Bowen was often times matched up with Lakers’ scoring machine in Bryant.
A flying kick to the knee? Check.
Stepping on Bryant’s wrist? Oh yea.
Stepping underneath Bryant after a jumper? You betcha.
Raja Bell deserves recognition for his clothesline of Bryant in the 2006 playoffs, but Bowen’s war with Bryant was far longer and much dirtier.
7 Loved: Derek Fisher
Bryant and Derek Fisher were teammates for 12 seasons in Los Angeles (the two were both drafted in 1996), and like Bryant, Fisher can lay claim to five titles as a player.
Fisher and Bryant’s bond goes back to those days in 1996, when both youngsters were fighting and scrapping to get out on the court.
That bond apparently was forged strong, as Bryant has previously mentioned how Fisher was his favorite teammate.
Fisher was never going to be the star, rather, the 6’1 bulldog was always a rock in Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense, as well as a teammate the always reclusive Bryant could lean on for assistance.
In Caron Butler’s autobiography, Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA, Bryant names four of his favorite teammates in the foreword of the book.
Who were those teammates?
Along with Fisher, Bryant names Butler, Pau Gasol, and Ronnie Turiaf as those guys.
6 Hated: Ray Allen
Ray Allen was chosen eight picks before Bryant, however unlike Bryant, Allen was not afforded the ability to play his entire career with one team.
Allen was drafted by Milwaukee and immediately traded to Minnesota in a draft night trade for Stephon Marbury. From Milwaukee, Allen would eventually wind up in Seattle, Boston, and finally Miami to round out an impressive career.
It was during Allen’s Seattle days where the feud would begin.
Allen and Bryant’s personal rivalry raged on when Allen was traded to the Celtics, and although the bickering through the media subsided, the disdain between both competitive guards was clearly still present.
5 Loved: Jerry West
Jerry West is responsible for more than being a hall of famer, one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time, and the inspiration for one of the world’s greatest logos, he’s also the man who went out on a limb and traded for Bryant.
West, who has experienced ample success as an executive and as an advisor during his post-playing days, knew right away that Bryant was a keeper.
How long did it take exactly for the then 58-year-old West to decide Bryant was worth the time and patience?
West has been in Bryant’s corner through many of his trials and tribulations, including 2004, when Bryant nearly left the Lakers.
It’s safe to say their bond is tight.
3 Hated: The City of Philadelphia
A lot of people have a love/hate relationship with the place known as “The City of Brotherly Love”, including Santa Claus.
You can add Bryant to that list.
Bryant, of course, played high school ball at Lower Merion High School in the city’s suburban Main Line, his father Joe played four seasons with the 76ers, and Bryant was born in the city (he would later move to Italy due to his father’s overseas basketball stint, before returning to the U.S. in 1991).
Bryant was famously booed during the 2002 All-Star Game MVP Awards announcement, an MVP prize Bryant garnered in what was his sixth season of his career.
In a bit of retribution, Bryant would be cheered by the Philadelphia faithful during his final appearance in the city as a Laker in 2015.
2 Loved: Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson was able to coach Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal in their primes, yet outside of being handed great talent to work with, Jackson’s thought provoking and psychological warfare went a long ways in developing winning teams.
The “love” between the two was not always felt, and according to Jackson, he could “quite often feel his hatred.”
Working relationships can often be up and down, and considering both headstrong players in O’Neal and Bryant were in their 20’s when Jackson coached both, it’s no wonder those Lakers teams nearly came to blows.
Jackson left the Lakers in 2004, before eventually returning a season later. It was clear that Jackson’s symmetry with Bryant was more harmonious with O’Neal out of the picture.
Winning certainly helps that.
The Lakers would go onto win two more titles with Jackson and Bryant teamed together.
1 Hated: Shaquille O’Neal
That podcast that settled everything and cleared the air of any hate and disgust between the two means nothing.
The Bryant-O’Neal feud puts KD-Russ to shame.
O’Neal once called Bryant “selfish” during a team meeting.
Many people believe that it was Bryant who orchestrated the firing of Jackson and the subsequent trade of O’Neal to Miami in the summer of 2004.
O’Neal once reportedly slapped Bryant during a practice, and according to a 2004 report, Bryant reportedly dropped O’Neal’s name during an interview Bryant did with police in conjunction with his sexual assault case.
And according to a report from Ric Bucher, things got so bad, O’Neal once wanted to murder Bryant.
It was clear from the beginning that both personalities would fail to mesh, and eventually, one would have to go.
Given O’Neal’s age, as well as his propensity to showing up to training camp out of shape on a regular basis, it is safe to say the Lakers made the right choice in choosing Bryant.