The 1996 NBA Draft was one of the most talented groups of young prospects to hit the league. The field was highlighted by names like Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, and the No. 1 overall pick, Allen Iverson. There was also a young Kobe Bean Bryant, who skipped college to be selected 13th overall. Since that night in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the Answer and Kobe's paths were connected, leading A.I. to pen an open letter to his friend.
The Hall of Famer started off his piece in the Players' Tribune by admitting that this moment would be "tough" but he needed to get these things "off my chest." A.I. stated that watching Kobe compete with Michael Jordan at just 18-years-old made him realize how special Bryant was.
"You were going hard at Mike that night. No fear whatsoever. I mean, I knew from passing you in traffic over the years that you were a dog. But when I saw you going at Black Jesus like that? That’s when I knew you were a kindred spirit," A.I. wrote. "We might have grown up in different circumstances, but when I saw you on the court, and how hard you were going, I knew we were raised with the same mentality. Everybody says they want to be that. But not everybody is willing to sacrifice what it really takes to do it."
By 2001, Allen Iverson was the MVP of the league and entering his prime while Kobe was coming into his own as the other superstar on the Lakers next to Shaq. This set the stage for two standouts from the '96 draft to meet in the Finals. Kobe and Iverson had heated exchanges during this series, but it was rooted in their love for each other.
"The 2001 Finals, we were going at each other like fighters. Not out of some beef or hatred—that’s what some people could never understand. Not out of hate. Out of admiration. Out of love," Iverson explained. "Greatness needs company, and we needed each other. Mike needed Prince like Prince needed Mike. Tyson needed Holyfield like Holyfield needed Tyson."
Although Iverson won't let anyone eclipse Jordan as his GOAT, he makes it clear that the No. 2 spot is reserved for Bean. "Nobody was tougher than you. Nobody got more out of me. We’re linked forever in this game—in this life," Iverson wrote. "I just wish we’d had more time."
Like Iverson, Kyrie Irving's career is connected to Kobe's legacy. Irving was in the first class of Mamba mentees, being hand-picked by Kobe to learn the ways of his Mamba Mentality. This moved him to celebrate Kobe Day by creating his own open letter.
"What I witnessed Kobe do in his 24 hours was inspire others through his actions," Kyrie said. "That's all I've learned from Kobe, was to challenge yourself every day to be better."
Kyrie went on to explain that he's continuing Kobe's vision by joining forces with the WNBA to advance the game of women's basketball as well as fight for players to get the pay they deserve.
"I saw our ladies in the WNBA, our queens, and I saw this as a way to create a fund that would bring everyone to the table," he continued. "Helping others, severing others, is the rent we pay to be here on Earth."