After Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1998, the NBA was looking for the next face to carry the league. While Vince Carter was among the players that challenged him, Kobe Bryant eventually separated himself from the pack with his individual and team accomplishments.
As Bryant finishes his 20th and final season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lower Merion High coach Gregg Downer shares how Carter motivated the five-time champion in high school according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“Of all the things that Kobe could remember, he remembers me poking fun at him and saying that Vince Carter was better than him,” Downer said. “He encapsulates all that stuff in his mind. He wanted to be the best. All these years later, you can’t compare to what Kobe’s done to what Carter’s done.”
When Carter was informed he was a source of motivation for Bryant, he said the following according to Medina:
“It’s pretty cool, especially since I didn’t know that,” Carter told the Los Angeles News Group. “Any information he can get for the good of himself to better him, he’s going to use. It doesn’t surprise me.”
Early in their careers, there were constant debates about who was the better player between Bryant and Carter. Unlike Carter, Bryant was fortunately able to avoid any major injuries for most of his career and adjust his game as his athleticism declined.
While this is Bryant’s final season, it appears Carter will continue to play beyond this season. Although Carter was once a superstar and is considered one of the greatest dunkers of all-time, he seems content with being a role player at this stage of his career for the Memphis Grizzlies.