Last year, right around this time, then-Pacers GM and always-Celtics deity Larry Bird was a guest on Bill Simmons podcast. If you somehow missed it, you can listen right here, and you most definitely should.
Seriously, what are you waiting for?
Anyway, the one part of Bill and Larry's conversation that's always stuck with me is the following:
Simmons: If you could choose any current player that you'd like to play a season with, who would it be?
Bird: "Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that ... well, of course he wouldn't have been shooting as much as he does now ... but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he's just, he's just tough. He's just a tough cat."
At the time, for obvious reasons, Bird's answer shocked me. Kobe? A Laker? How could he? After all he'd been through with the Celtics . . . After all the hate he'd fostered for the Purple and Gold . . .
Of course, I understand him respecting Kobe's game, but I figured Bryant would be the guy that Bird would want to compete against, not play with.
But hey, what can you do? Get mad at Larry Bird? I don't think so. If anything, it just increased the level of respect I have for Kobe. In fact, since hearing Bird's answer, I feel like I've come to better understand what Bryant's all about, what makes him tick, and why, although he's certainly not void of criticism, he's far more deserving of our admiration.
Anyway, I was reminded of this whole story last night, when Bryant sent out this tweet to his more than 1M followers:
Gotta give well wishes to Rondo. One of my fav players in the world. My prayers r with u lil bro. I'm here if u need me respect Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 28, 2013Of all people, right?
And it's not like Kobe just said, "Get well soon, buddy." Even that would have been enough to get your attention. To leave you thinking, "Oh, wow. I can't believe Kobe would reach out to Rondo like that." But what he actually said is mind-blowing.
Of course, Kobe doesn't see Rondo every day. In fact, he's only played against him in two NBA Finals, and then twice a year in games that qualify as two of the biggest in any Celtics season. For that reason, he's likely only seen motivated Rondo. Focused Rondo. The Rondo that we all know can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the game. Would Kobe say the same thing if he shared a locker room with No. 9? Would KG and Pierce call Rondo "one of my fav players in the world"?
I think they'd say something along those lines, although probably not as emphatically. Then again, in terms of attitude and perception, Rondo's probably more like Kobe than he is Pierce or Garnett.
And while some might consider that a bad thing, I know one guy who would disagree.