The Lakers and Spurs had a terrific rivalry in the 2000s, one that spanned the primes of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant and also featured several other stars and Hall of Famers including Shaquille O’Neal, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. The two teams faced each other in the playoffs seven times between 1999 and 2013, with the Lakers winning four series to San Antonio’s three.
Lakers fans grew to truly despise Spurs (perhaps my personal bias is creeping through here), but it was impossible for the players involved not to develop professional respect for one another. After all, these franchises have combined for 10 of the last 21 NBA titles, and nine within a 12-year stretch.
As it turns out, the Lakers and the Spurs had more than just the rivalry binding them together. In an interview with The Undefeated, former San Antonio guard Tony Parker disclosed that Kobe Bryant mentored him, even though they were on opposing teams. It’s why Parker made it a point to attend Bryant’s memorial service in February.
It was important to be there because he always had an impact on my career. He was always there for me, giving me advice and text messages. He was just an unbelievable player. Maybe the closest to Michael Jordan, who I think is the best ever. I played against Kobe in his prime. I will always have fond memories of Spurs-Lakers, which was a classic with all of us in our primes. We will definitely all miss him.
Bryant wasn’t only a model for Parker during their basketball careers. Parker hoped to follow his example in retirement as well in terms of Bryant’s impact in women’s basketball. Parker is currently the president and majority owner of a French club that has both a men’s and women’s team. He is also part of the ownership group for Lyon, the most successful women’s soccer club in the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the final interaction he had with Bryant was about women’s sports.
The last time I saw Kobe was in China last year when he was an ambassador for the World Cup. We were sitting together having conversations about women’s basketball and how we can grow it. He knew that I owned a women’s team and was investing a lot in women’s basketball. It’s just sad that I can’t see him anymore. I wish we could have done all that stuff together, because we would have done great stuff together in women’s basketball.
Bryant had a substantial impact on women’s basketball players domestically, from the youth level with his Mamba Academy, to the collegiate level with his involvement with Sabrina Ionescu, and even at the professional level with his WNBA clinics. Parker has a unique opportunity to spread that impact globally, and it sounds like that was something he wanted to explore with Bryant.
It has become clear since Bryant’s passing that his legacy stretches far beyond what he accomplished with the Lakers. He wanted young girls to have the same opportunities as young boys to play basketball, not just while growing up but also professionally. He saw it as his responsibility to use his platform to make that happen. Now that he is gone, other people will have to pick up the mantle. As someone who received Bryant’s mentorship, Parker is exactly the kind of steward who can carry on Bryant’s message.