The story of Ruben Patterson calling himself “The Kobe Stopper” is one of the more fun urban legends surrounding the career of former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, but it’s actually unclear how true it actually is.
Bryant recently got back into the story during an appearance on ESPN, telling host Neil Everett that he would have helped Patterson — his teammate during the latter’s rookie year — get a new contract, which is what Bryant thought Patterson was trying to do by supposedly giving himself the “Kobe Stopper” nickname:
Everett: Ruben Patterson made the mistake of talking that he might be ‘The Kobe Stopper.’ How did that work out for him?
Bryant: ”Well, I thought that was just a business decision for him. I even called Ruben, I said ‘Ruben, if you needed me to come out and say ‘Ruben Patterson plays the best defense on me out of anybody else in the league, I would’ve said that for you. I would have helped you get a new contract. Just let me know.’”
However, because Patterson didn’t let him know, Bryant said he had to “torch” his former practice opponent:
Everett: So instead, he got...
Bryant: ”Well instead, yeah, I had to torch him. But like if he would’ve at least let me know, I could’ve helped (him) out.”
Now the nickname is attached to Patterson, even bringing up his player page on Basketball Reference if you search “Kobe Stopper” in the site’s search bar. But did Patterson actually even call himself that, and did Bryant actually “torch” him?
As for the first question, the earliest reference I could find of the “Kobe Stopper” talk coming from Patterson was an old L.A. Times article written by Tim Kawakami in November of 1999, Patterson’s first season in Seattle after leaving the Lakers (emphasis mine):
No surprise to anybody who witnessed his bruising performances in Laker practices, Patterson has gotten raves for his energy and aggressive play.
Patterson also caught the Lakers’ attention by calling himself the “Kobe stopper,” saying he regularly shut down Kobe Bryant in practice.
”I was at practice every day,” guard Derek Fisher said. “You don’t really have to think about what he’s saying. It’s good that he has that type of confidence, but there’s no one guy I think in this league that can stop Kobe or many other guys in this league.”
But did Patterson actually call himself that? That’s been the persistent re-telling of the story, but in a post on ExNBA.com from 2015, Patterson actually claims it was Shawn Kemp who gave him the nickname:
Retired NBA player Ruben Patterson, who has recently joined the NBRPA, spoke with Legends of Basketball, and recalled his memories of Kobe Bryant. In particular, he revealed how the “Kobe Stopper” name was created and how it stick to him.
“Shawn Kemp started that nickname when we played the Lakers,” Patterson said, who played with Kemp on the Portland TrailBlazers team. “I was soaking my Achilles in some ice as a cameraman was filming me and Shawn just made it up on the spot.”
Patterson even had praise for Kobe in the same post:
“Kobe was unbelievable: even way back as a rookie with the Lakers I witnessed his passion for the game: he would come into the gym at 3AM or 4AM to shoot around,” recalled Patterson, who played his rookie season with Bryant and the Lakers in 1998-99.
So whether this is just Patterson walking back an ill-advised and overconfident declaration, or if his denial is true will probably be lost to history. However, he can at least take heart in that Bryant didn’t actually “torch” Patterson that much more than he did the rest of the NBA.
After going back and calculating Bryant’s averages against teams Patterson was on during the regular season, over 23 games after Patterson reportedly called himself “The Kobe Stopper,” Bryant averaged a solid 29.3 points on 44.4 percent shooting.
And while that is (mostly) better than Bryant’s career averages of 25 points on 44.7 percent shooting, it’s not that much of an improvement over the 28.3 points of 45.5 percent shooting Bryant averaged from the 1999-2000 season to the end of the 2007-08 season (when Patterson’s career ended).
So, was Ruben Patterson “The Kobe Stopper?” No, no one was back then, but it seems like he also may have never seriously claimed to be. If he didn’t, it’s probably unfair that his name will be the fuel of Lakers Twitter jokes for the rest of his life, but at the very least Patterson can take solace in the fact that he and his teams didn’t do that much worse than anyone else did at containing Kobe.
All stats per Basketball Reference. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.