The 2004 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Pistons are mostly known as the end of the Lakers’ dominance at the start of the century and the end of the Kobe & Shaq era. But for Pistons shooting guard Rip Hamilton, it was also a personal battle.
Rip and Kobe were rivals from their earlier days, playing against each other in AAU, battling for the high school state championship, which Kobe won, to playing in the NBA Finals.
On the ‘Real Ones’ podcast with Raja Bell and Logan Murdock, Rip Hamilton discussed what it was like to play against Kobe Bryant in the 2004 NBA Finals and why he had to win that battle.
He talked about how after winning the NCAA championship with UConn, he immediately called Kobe because he wanted to let him know how it was more valuable than the state championship.
After Kobe got a few NBA championships, Rip had to get some of his own, and in 2004 he had a perfect opportunity precisely against Kobe and the Lakers. Rip believes the Pistons were by far the best team in the NBA at the time, especially after getting Rasheed Wallace to complete that starting five, and himself and Chauncey Billups being the best backcourt in the NBA, in his opinion.
He would end up being right, as the Pistons surprised everybody but themselves, winning it pretty quickly in 5 games with Billups winning Finals MVP. Hamilton had a great series, leading the Pistons in scoring with 21.4 points per game, while Kobe on the other end wasn’t too bad, averaging 22.4 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough to pull it out.
It was a huge personal win for Rip Hamilton, getting a big one over his biggest rival. Even though his career wasn’t nearly as glorious as Kobe’s, he was still a very dangerous player. And even though they were opponents and fierce competitors, they both had a lot of respect for each other.