In an essay for the Players' Tribune, Allen Iverson said he knew Kobe Bryant was going to be a game-changer when he was just a teenager.
It clicked when he saw Bryant play against Michael Jordan.
"The first time I saw you going up against Black Jesus, when you were 18 years old, I knew you were a killer," Iverson wrote in a letter to Bryant, who would've turned 42 last Sunday. "That’s when I realized you were going to be a legend in this game. You were going hard at Mike that night. No fear whatsoever. I mean, I knew from passing you in traffic over the years that you were a dog. But when I saw you going at Black Jesus like that? That’s when I knew you were a kindred spirit."
Bryant and Iverson both entered the NBA during the 1996-97 season.
Bryant was drafted straight out of high school as the 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets and then immediately traded to the Lakers. Iverson, who had played for Georgetown from 1994-1996, was the No. 1 overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson, an 11-time All-Star and one-time MVP in 2001, wrote that the lore around Bryant's work ethic and intensity was all true.
If anything, he said it was understated.
"Boy, you were the sh*t," Iverson wrote. "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."
Bryant went on to become a five-time NBA champion, 18-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP and one-time regular season MVP in 2008 over his 20-season career with the Lakers.
He died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.
"You’re probably the only dude in the history of the game where the mystique wasn’t exaggerated," Iverson wrote. "The Mamba was no myth, man. It didn’t even do you justice. One, two, three in the morning, we knew where you were."
Iverson recalled Bryant picking him up at his hotel when he came to Los Angeles for the first time their rookie year. They ate together and then Iverson told him he was going to go to a club.
"I mean, we in L.A.!" he wrote. "I’m going to the club, Kobe. Come on, man. And what did you say? 'I’m going back to the gym.'"
Iverson described some of the battles that he and Bryant had over the years, including the 2001 NBA Finals, which the Lakers won in five games.
"Me and you, every single time we stepped on that floor, we were going to war," Iverson wrote. "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."