via Sporting News

We know that Kobe Bryant is arguably the greatest competitor who ever set foot on an NBA hardwood. At worst, he’s number 2 to Michael Jordan in that regard. Then again, unlike Jordan, Kobe was more than willing to give his rivals their flowers when they earned them.

The Black Mamba wasn’t kind to his rivals whatsoever. He barely even talked to them. If anything, he tried to prove that he wasn’t intimidated by them and that, regardless of what they did, he was still going to cook them once he got that rock on his hands.

But, among the players that faced Kobe throughout his two decades in the league, one always stood out. He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t going to take him one-on-one on the other end, and he could even go scoreless, but his suffocating defense always caught Kobe’s attention. That man was Tony Allen.

Bryant once called Allen ‘the best defender he ever faced’. That moment, according to Chris Baynes, was perhaps the most exciting moment Allen went through in the league, as he recalled on Twitter in the wake of Tony’s birthday:

“Kobe considered Tony Allen the best defender he ever faced. Allen would think about Kobe when he went to sleep, woke up, drove to the game. In 12 years they had never spoken. Kobe sent him a pair of Kobes. His teammates fell silent. Tony had to fight back tears,” Haynes reported.

According to Haynes, Allen himself told him that the moment Kobe gave him a pair of signed sneakers was when he felt like all the hard work he had put on had finally paid off:

“I ain’t gonna score 40 points. I don’t have a fancy crossover. Can’t hit a step-back three. I play defense. That’s what I do. When he gave me those shoes, I realized something. All the hard work, the sleepless nights, everything…that moment made it all worth it,” Allen said.

Kobe Bryant sure knew a thing or two about defense. He was an elite defender himself, so he knows what he’s talking about. Also, we’re talking about a guy who was often guarded by the rivals’ best defender and that saw his fair share of all-time greats in that regard.

Tony Allen surely won’t be remembered for his scoring, his handles, or his playmaking. But like Kobe himself once said, he’s one of the greatest stoppers to ever do it.