Every player has their “Welcome to the NBA moment,” but going head-to-head with a star you idolized growing up is presumably a completely different experience.
For older generations, that was going up against Michael Jordan. For this current generation, it’s going up against LeBron James. But for the older stars in the league today, it was going up against Kobe Bryant.
Since Bryant’s tragic death in 2020, we’ve heard several previously untold stories from players about their fond memories of competing against the Black Mamba.
Warriors superstar Stephen Curry recently hopped on “Hot Ones” with Sean Evans, where he brought up three of his own memorable experiences of being matched up with Bryant earlier in his career.
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Curry was prompted when Evans asked him about the viral story of Bryant’s recognition of the sharpshooter’s “Baby Faced Assassin” nickname. That opened a floodgate for Curry to talk about Kobe.
Curry started with a story from his rookie year. He rehashed a moment when Bryant showed respect for his game that Curry didn’t find out about until after the contest was over.
“It was my rookie year and we were playing the Lakers at home. I come down the court and do this little pump fake situation, hit a leaner off the glass. As we’re coming down the court, the camera locks in on him for some reason and he leans to the guy next to him on his team and mouths, ‘Yo, he’s nice,'” Curry told Evans.
“That’s the dopest thing in the world. Kobe is validating my game when he’s seeing me play for real for the first time. That’s just freakin’ amazing.”
Curry didn’t stop there. He went on to tell a story about the first time he saw Bryant’s signature “Mamba Mentality” up close as an opponent.
“The second time, we’re playing in a preseason game and he’s doing that Mamba Mentality thing where he’s picking me up full court in a preseason game in the first quarter,” Curry began.
“You turn around and he’s like this [mimicking Kobe’s signature intense facial expression]. He’s doing defensive slides, staying in front of me. I’m like, ‘What is happening right now? This is freakin’ Kobe Bryant.’
“So he stays with me for like four or five slides and then he bumps me and I kind of fall off balance. I’m actually gassed at this point. I’m tired, trying to get into shape in a preseason game and he’s just going all out on the defensive pressure and he’s way bigger and way stronger than me, bumping me and doing all that.
“So after I fall, I got no option, I’m just gonna shoot it and live with it. I shot it from probably 30 feet and I made it, and then I acted like nothing happened. It was the biggest ‘keep your cool’ moment in your life because it’s freakin’ Kobe, you’re trying to be super chill about it when I just drained one from 30 on him after he picked me up (full court),” Curry said with a smile.
“He gave me a little ass tap on the way back and I couldn’t even acknowledge that either, I just kind of knocked him off and acted like I was playing on defense. I went right back in at halftime and was like, ‘I need that clip. Bring me that back. I gotta save that on my phone,'” he said with a big laugh.
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Credit to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who found both videos that Curry was talking about and paired them with the interview on Twitter.
Last, Curry addressed Evans’ “Baby Faced Assassin” reference that sparked the conversation.
“The third time is what you’re referring to in terms of him breaking down the killer instinct that I hide behind the smile,” Curry said passionately.
“He was like the joy that I play with and the smile that I have, you get deceived by the killer instinct that I have underneath and the competitive spirit that I have.
“For someone to validate you like that — especially he’s not giving out compliments like that — that was truly special, for sure.”
Even as one of the greatest players in NBA history, Curry isn’t too proud to admit what it means to receive that type of praise from one of the most influential icons the sport has ever seen.
You can watch Curry’s full interview on “Hot Ones” below.
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