NBA

Doc Rivers explains why Kobe Bryant was the ‘perfect opponent’

"There was no quit in him. You knew he was going to fight with you."

Doc Rivers is now the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A year after Kobe Bryant’s passing, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said it’s “still difficult” whenever he thinks about the tragedy.

“Obviously, I had a competitive relationship with him,” Rivers told reporters Monday. “I had a personal relationship with him. That was a difficult day for everybody.”

Rivers said that he believes Bryant started “letting more people in” after his retirement, and Rivers feels as though he was one of those people. He called Bryant a great competitor and “the perfect opponent” because it was a guarantee he would always give his all.

The head coach reflected on a talk he had with Bryant shortly after the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the 2008 NBA title.

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“You could look him in his eyes, and I was thinking ‘Boy, we’re going to have to deal with this guy again,'” Rivers said, “and obviously he exacted his revenge on us in 2010. You just loved competing against him, because you know there was no quit in him. You knew he was going to fight with you. Whatever it took to get back at you, and as an opponent, you always appreciated that.”

Rivers said their relationship evolved after Bryant’s playing days were over.

He shared that three weeks before the helicopter crash, he and Bryant sat in a corner at a function and dissected the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals series. Bryant, Rivers said, wanted to learn everything about coaching so he could help his daughter Gianna – who also died in the crash – and her teammates flourish.

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For instance, he said Bryant asked him what made the Celtics decide to trap him in Game 7 during the 2010 series after teams hadn’t trapped him in the two years prior.

“It’s just amazing what he wanted to know and why,” said Rivers, who became a coaching mentor for Bryant. “I really loved those conversations.”

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