Whenever we hear Kobe Bryant stories, the man is usually the protagonist of the narrative. After all, he’s the type who knows how to reinforce his words with actions. But in one encounter against a Spanish phenom, Bryant was backed into a corner with some epic trash talk. He fought back. But the other party did not back down.
After a duel between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012, Bryant and then 22-year-old Ricky Rubio engaged in a little back and forth. Only a few people had the guts to talk smack to the Black Mamba, one of them was Ricky Rubio.
Kobe Bryant to Ricky Rubio and Pau Gasol: You talking about London?
Gasol: Oh yeah.
Rubio: You’re gonna be there?
Rubio: You know you’re getting the silver medal? You know that?
Bryant: I’m taking bets! If I win, I get the keys to Barcelona.
Rubio: I bet what you want.
Bryant: I take it!
Rubio’s confidence is quite eerie, especially given that Spain and the US met at the gold medal game. The Americans won by seven points, which proved how tough the Spaniards were.
Even Kobe himself, as recounted by legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski, believed that they’d likely meet Spain in the final match. Coach K praised Bryant’s extraordinary foresight. The Black Mamba knew that Spain was loaded with very smart players.
Bryant’s prediction that they’ll meet Spain in the final duel is a combination of his great foresight plus awareness of history: the two national teams went at it in the gold medal match in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bryant knew that the Spaniards would be out for revenge.
Interestingly, Rubio, then just 17 years old, was Spain’s starting guard. He wasn’t treated like some college kid like Anthony Davis, who was merely there to absorb lessons from the greats. Rubio played some significant minutes and came up with key plays as well.
Rubio belongs to the exclusive group of European basketball greats who have set foot in the NBA. Yes, he didn’t turn out to be a “generational athlete” like Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Dirk Nowitzki. But it would be completely unfair to wipe him off the radar like a scrub. The man has basketball talent written all over his DNA. He wouldn’t be a highly-sought after guard if that weren’t the case.