Trevor Ariza grew up a Kobe Bryant fan. He remembers going to an autograph signing session at The Forum when he was in seventh grade, getting a photo with one of his NBA idols.
Bryant remembers that moment, too. He said the two reminisced and laughed about it recently and Ariza told him he even still has that picture somewhere.
Since then, the two have won an NBA Championship together and Ariza has moved on to the Houston Rockets. But, that hasn’t stopped him from asking for Bryant’s autograph.
After the Houston Rockets played the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Thursday night, Ariza took a stroll over to his former locker room, to catch up with an old friend.
He had his game-worn shoes from that night in his hand, the Nike Zoom Kobe IVs. But these weren’t just any ordinary Kobe IVs. These were the same shoes he wore when the Lakers won the NBA championship in 2009, and he laced them up to matchup with Kobe Bryant in his final season. To commemorate the moment, Ariza asked his childhood idol for his autograph, one last time.
“He’s like my little brother,” Bryant smiled after the game.
When Ariza was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers in November of 2007, he was ready to play alongside the best in the NBA.
“It was the best thing for my career,” Ariza told LakersNation.com of playing with Bryant. “Because I got to learn how to work really hard. I got to learn how to do things the right way. I got to learn the type of mentality that you need to play at a high level in this league for a long time so playing with him has definitely helped my career.”
What did Ariza most take away from his couple years of playing alongside Bryant?
“His will and competitiveness. He wants to win at everything, doesn’t matter what it is. I think that I kind of have that same kind of mentality. When you’re competing against somebody like that all the time, you can’t do anything but get better. And that’s one thing that he wanted for me and for himself was to find ways to get better and that was one of the things we were able to help each other with.”
Ariza fractured a bone in his right foot in January of 2008, but would return for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Ultimately, the Lakers would lose in the NBA Finals, to none other than the Boston Celtics in Game 6. But, that heartbreaking loss to their historic rivals would only fuel them to reach championship heights the next year.
And, Ariza was a fundamental piece to that 2008-09 championship, whether that was coming up with clutch steals in the playoffs (remember that inbounds pass Ariza stole in Game 1 vs. the Nuggets?) or crucial three-pointers in the NBA Finals or simply grueling practices to push every player on that team to be the best they could be.
Ariza is now entering his 12th season in the NBA and after playing with dozens and dozens of teammates, he’s realized just how surprisingly difficult it is to find other players with Bryant’s same approach to the game.
“That’s not something you see,” Ariza said referring to Bryant’s unique mindset. “It’s very, very rare to see that.”
Apparently, Ariza himself is one of the few.
“No doubt about it,” Bryant responded when asked if Ariza’s mentality was similar to his own. “That’s what made that team special. We all were a bunch of dogs.”