D'Angelo Russell made a guest appearance on the J.J. Reddick podcast, where he talked about the bubble, his former teams, teammates, and the future with the Timberwolves. One of the most interesting stories he shared on the podcast happened during his rookie year when he was still with the Lakers, and it was Kobe Bryant's last season in the NBA. They played the Portland Trail Blazers, and D'Angelo was in charge of guarding Damian Lillard, which didn't go as planned.
Despite feeling confident in himself and wanting to prove everyone he can compete with the best guys in the league, D'Angelo admits that game was when he realized he came into the big boys league. Lillard was schooling him for the first minute making all kinds of crazy shots. D'Angelo says the way Lillard was scoring, he could've easily got 50, but it was a time-out that he will always remember.
Kobe Bryant, who was playing his last NBA season, was visibly frustrated what he saw what Lillard was doing and how D'Angelo was helpless to stop him.
What you want this motherf***er to have 50.
Next thing you know, even at the age of 38, Kobe took upon a challenge of guarding Lillard, which was one of the most astonishing things Russell seen in his career. He also said Kobe had tremendous respect and reputation among the referees who would often time let him get away with some things and, in this specific case, was shutting down Lillard by any means necessary.
Kobe goes out and guards him. This was my welcome to the NBA moment, just Dame having, I don't even know what. But then seeing Kobe guard him and beat him up. They weren't letting Kobe foul out that game, and he just beat him up. Kobe shut it down. I watched the refs kinda let Kobe beat the shit out of him to do it.
Russell also understood how much power the referees have on the game and the respect Kobe had and the desire to take on the challenge of guarding Lillard. It seems every now and then, another mamba mentality stories surface which proves to show how determined and competitive Bryant was even at the end of his career.
Number one that is the reputation, and the second is refs really control the game, and I hope I don't get fined for saying that. They control the game, so it was really cool to see that, and that was in my first year.