It's no secret that the late Kobe Bryant was one of LA Clippers star Paul George's favorite players and mentors. George has talked about Bryant extensively throughout his playing career, sharing stories about how he grew up idolizing him in his early days with the Los Angeles Lakers, even though George himself also rooted for the Clippers.
Unlike most of us, George worked hard enough and was lucky enough to eventually face-off with his childhood star once he got into the NBA. Following the Clippers' 129-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, he recalled what it was like to play against Bryant for the first time.
"The very first time was here in LA," George said. "I think it was my second year, I got the opportunity. I was matched up with him and it was my assignment to guard Kobe... Obviously having [Brian Shaw] as an assistant and B. Shaw is jawing at him, egging him on, getting him riled up, talking mess from the bench... Here I am in the middle while all of this was going on, and I just remember one possession down on their end in front of their bench. I was guarding him and he got into his backdown, his patent pump fake and I went flying for it. You know, young guy trying to block his shot, I went flying for it... He ran down specifically to where B. Shaw was and yelled at B. Shaw, 'Check the young fella for feathers!' That was the first moment of being on the court guarding Kobe."
Answering a follow-up question about what the experience meant to him, George described it as one of the most memorable moments of his life.
"It was everything," George said. "At that moment, it was me and him. Nobody on that court mattered. Nothing else mattered. To me, it was just me and him... This was the matchup I always wanted and it was a chance for me to see him up close and just learn from him. So it was everything for me... It was the best moment of my life as a professional basketball player."
With the anniversary of Bryant's death coming up next week, expect several players around the league — perhaps George included — to have tributes prepared.