’96 Draft: Boys to Legends

Kobe will play in Philadelphia for the final time on Tuesday. Revisiting his thoughts on fellow Draft Class great Allen Iverson, and the end of an era.
by December 01, 2015

Whenever I interview Kobe Bryant, I have a few favorite topics. They include his love for Philadelphia, his sister Sharia, the ’96 draft and sneakers.

Kobe has this weird thing about the city of Philadelphia. I can vividly remember it as far back as 1995, when people would say he’s from the suburbs and not really from Philly. Next, it was that he wasn’t playing in the “pub” (Philadelphia Public League) so he was only a great player because his competition was second class citizens. I’ve used my access as a writer to slowly set the record straight over the years.

His sister and I attended Temple University together and between the three of us, we have formed a unique bond. We are friends, and everyone respects one another, and the job we have to do as athlete, journalist and family member. She has given me great insight over the years and in turn, he and I have had really good conversations.

Friday, November 6, 2015, Brooklyn, NY

Whenever the Lakers play on the East Coast, I try my best to be there.

From the start, this one was different. I walked into the Barclays Center two hours before the game, and there was a sheet in the media room that said Kobe would do media availability at 6:15 p.m.

For anyone that has covered the Lakers, they know that this NEVER happens. And not only was he available, he walked over to the herd of writers, TV personalities, and analysts, alone, then he shakes my hand—we say What’s up, and then he begins answering questions.

When he was done, he started talking to Howard Beck, formerly of the LA Times, now with Bleacher Report, and we all walk a short distance to the visitor’s locker room.

Mind you, there is a film crew following us, and his wife and children have made the cross country trip to watch him play in New York. And to make my mind wander even further, he has been speaking with the media without a Lakers public relations manager around. And this very rarely happens, especially with someone of his stature.

When he and I were alone, I asked him a few questions about the Draft, and how his and Kerry Kittles’ paths have played out, from their pick-up games at Villanova, to their respective careers.

Then I asked him about Allen Iverson, because with AI being eligible for the Hall of Fame, I wanted to get his honest opinion of him. When he put him in the same sentence as Michael Jordan, I understood how special KB considers Iverson to be as an undersized guard. It’s easy for any of us to say AI is one of the best ever, but to hear someone like Kobe say that, it holds a lot more weight and validation.

A few weeks after that day in Brooklyn, Kobe wrote his “Dear Basketball” poem, expressing that this is indeed his swan song, and he is calling it a career after the 2015-16 season.

Tonight, Kobe will play his final regular season game in Philadelphia. Which brings his—and Allen’s—shared Draft Class history to an end. I’ll be there. Because after all, it’s the end of an era.

Anthony Gilbert is a SLAM contributor. Follow him on Twitter. Image via Getty.