Dwyane Wade was a perfect foil to Kobe Bryant for much of his NBA career. As an uber-athletic two guard who also won a championship early in his career next to Shaquille O’Neal, Wade and Bryant provided interesting narrative comparisons with one another.
It’s therefore unsurprising to learn that Wade recalls a moment when he was playing against Bryant as validation that he had made it in the league.
In a conversation with Stephen Curry on Instagram Live, Wade said that he knew he was a star once Bryant decided to pick him full court while defending him in a game:
“When I first got in the league, Steph, I couldn't throw a rock in the ocean, like I couldn't shoot, so everyone backed all the way to the rim. And then I remember the game when I first remember we were playing the Lakers, we was playing against Kobe, and I remember when Kobe first picked me up 94 feet. Because at first he would pick me up underneath the 3-point line, go under two screens, and let me shoot. So the moment where guys started picking me up 94 feet because they didn’t want me to touch the basketball, that’s the moment I was like, ‘oh okay, I got their respect now,’ you know what I’m saying.”
Bryant served as a mentor for younger players throughout the league, be it implicitly because they wanted to replicate his style of play, or because he actually took the time to work with them. He and Wade were closer to peers, but Bryant had already won three titles and earned four all-Defense honors by the time Wade was drafted, making him the standard Wade was aiming for at the shooting guard position. It stands to reason that Wade would seek Bryant’s approval.
Even though they never faced each other in the playoffs, Bryant and Wade had several flashbulb moments against one another. The banked game-winner Bryant hit over Wade in 2009 immediately comes to mind, which Wade paid homage to in his final season. There was also the 2012 All-Star game when Wade felt compelled to match Bryant’s level of intensity and ended up breaking up Bryant’s nose (which also spawned an incredible Wade meme).
Wade didn’t technically need Bryant’s blessing to know that he was an NBA star; he would have reached that clarity somehow, some way. But Bryant meant so much to the generation of players who followed him that it is only fitting for Wade to associate that memory with him.