Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett set an NBA record on the opening night of the 2015-16 season. They became the first players to face each other having both played 20 or more seasons. It was a fitting beginning to the possible end of their legendary careers which have mirrored each other in many ways.
Garnett originally made headlines when he was selected 5th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves directly out of high school in 1995.
Bryant followed Garnett’s lead after graduating from Lower Merion High in 1996 and was sereptitiosuly drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, then gifted to the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade.
Both were immediately recognized as throwback players. Hard workers in practice, trash talkers who got under the skin of their older NBA counterparts.
They both were part of dynamic tandems that were disbanded.
In 1996 Garnett was paired with electric point guard Stephon Marbury. They were supposed to be the updated version of Stockton and Malone. But as with Shaquille O’Neal in 2004 with Bryant, the two seemingly parted ways prematurely, although the latter hoisted three trophies together. Bryant’s Lakers twice eliminated K.G.’s Wolves in the 2003 and 2004 Western Conference playoffs.
Garnett and Bryant’s talents were showcased together as teammates at the 1998 NBA All-Star game in Madison Square Garden. The two kids out of high school were both in the starting lineups, Bryant having received more votes than Mitch Richmond in the final weeks leading up to the exhibition game. They lit up the crowd, throwing alley-oops to one another and waiving off veteran screens. Their symmetry and fluidity on the court led some to wonder: What if Kobe and K.G. were on the same team?
The summer of 2007 finally brought Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles during free-agency. Unfortunately it was to meet with Paul Pierce about his eventual trade to the Boston Celtics soon afterwards. Garnett was spotted shopping on Rodeo Drive and fans were sure this was an indication of him joining the Lakers. But although Garnett owned a home in nearby Malibu, he still chose Boston and won his first title in 2008 against Bryant and the Lakers.
Garnett not going to Los Angeles led to the acquisition of Pau Gasol. Bryant would get his revenge in the 2010 NBA Finals, a 7-game heavyweight bout. The two classic series have embedded Bryant and Garnett into Lakers/Celtics lore.
And some 20 years after their arrival they met in battle yet again. Both in their starting lineups, both still proudly representing their era, both mentoring upstart players drafted nearly 20-years after them. Bryant recently spoke about the longevity he and Garnett are displaying.
“It’s fantastic. It’s amazing. It brings a smile to my face, man,” said Bryant via ESPN’s J.A. Adande. “Because I remember thinking about making my decision and speaking on the phone with him, him going through his first season. Now fast forward, his 21st season, my 20th. It’s pretty amazing.”
K.G. actually advised Kobe to go to college in that phone conversation. Advice Bryantly appreciatively ignored.