Tuesday is a difficult day for the basketball world. A year ago, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant passed away suddenly in a tragic helicopter accident along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
The accident happened one day after Lakers veteran LeBron James surpassed Bryant on the All-Time scoring leaders list in the legend's hometown of Philadelphia. A few nights later, the Sixers honored Bryant in many different ways.
This year, the Kobe Bryant-related memorials might be at a minimum. According to Jason Dumas of KRON4, Bryant's family has reportedly asked that teams do not do tributes this year for the late-great Laker.
Although the Sixers might not have another tribute for Bryant at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers, 76ers head coach Doc Rivers still vocally opened up on his relationship with Kobe ahead of the Sixers' Monday night matchup against the Detroit Pistons.
“Obviously, I had a competitive relationship with him,” Rivers said. “I had a personal relationship with him. That was a difficult day for everybody. It’s still difficult when you think about it. I thought after his retirement; he started letting more people in. I was one of those guys. He was a great competitor, though. He’s the perfect opponent because you know he’s going to give his best.”
Coaching in the NBA since 1999, Rivers has had plenty of bouts against Bryant and the Lakers. On Monday, Rivers recalled a moment during the postgame celebration when his Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA Finals by defeating the Lakers.
"I remember having a talk with him during the celebration," Rivers said. "You could look him in his eyes, and I was thinking ‘Boy, we’re going to have to deal with this guy again,’ and obviously he exacted his revenge on us in 2010. You just loved competing against him, because you know there was no quit in him. You knew he was going to fight with you. Whatever it took to get back at you, and as an opponent, you always appreciated that.”
Bryant's competitiveness was well-documented throughout his career and after. Although he wasn't always open personally during his playing days -- especially with his opponents -- Bryant spent a lot of time connecting with people outside of his circle around the NBA during retirement. When his playing career wrapped up in 2016, Bryant started transitioning to coaching, which helped him form less of a "competitive" relationship with Rivers and more of a mentorship.
"Two or three weeks before the accident, we were at a function together, and we were supposed to get to the function, and we’re sitting over in a corner talking about [the 2008 NBA Finals and 2010 NBA Finals] series and dissecting them,” Rivers explained. "He was so into coaching after retirement because of his daughter, and he just wanted to know everything. Why we trapped him in Game 7 in 2010. . . 'Teams didn’t trap me in two years, what was that about?' It’s just amazing what he wanted to know and why. I really loved those conversations.”
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_