Carmelo Anthony, take note.
As reliable a soundbite as Bryant normally is, he's not what you would call humble. Nor is he anything more than a perpetual contradiction.
Bryant has spent the better part of his career embracing the art of deception. Heck, he's spent the better part of this year repeatedly negating his own sentiments on when he'll retire.
Simply put, the Black Mamba has been an abiding enigma. So why would he stop now?
Again, I do hope you're writing this down, Carmelo.
Bryant isn't one to shy away from speaking his mind, but over the years, he has seemingly been allergic to remitting praise to anyone that isn't himself or a teammate.
Is it surprising?
Given his endless confidence—which is often construed as arrogance—absolutely not.
What is shocking, however, is the unrelenting adoration Bryant expressed for Anthony during an interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith (via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com):
To Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony is the toughest cover in the NBA. Tougher, even, than LeBron James.
"For me, yeah," Bryant told Stephen A. Smith in an interview Wednesday.
"He’s always been a player that I enjoyed guarding the most," Bryant said. "He was the most difficult because of his size and his speed."
Are you confused?
Bryant certainly hopes Melo is.
Anthony has spent the better part of his career garnering what have been deemed unworthy comparisons to LeBron James. He has proceeded to spend the better part of this year living in his shadow after James obtained his first championship ring.
Now, however, less than halfway through a season in which Anthony has never been more committed to reversing the antagonistic narrative plaguing his career, he is drawing the flattery of Bryant himself.
Are we supposed to buy that? Are we supposed to believe that Bryant holds Anthony in higher esteem than the league's reigning MVP?
To be honest, we're not sure. And that's the point.
This could be a genuinely candid admittance that Bryant appreciates and respects Melo's skill set. Or, more likely, it could be an attempt to wage psychological warfare against a sudden MVP candidate.
Would we put it past Bryant to try and lure Anthony into a false sense of security? Would we put it past him to verbally idolize Melo in an effort to render him complacent for the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the New York Knicks? Would we put it past him to mean none of what he divulged to Smith?
With Mike D'Antoni set to square off against the Anthony-led Knicks for the first time since resigning (or being pushed out), it's unlikely the star forward would lack any sort of willpower. Not in a highly touted matchup such as this one.
Still, we can't blame Kobe for trying.
This is the same Bryant who endorsed Anthony for taking the "LeBron James route" back in 2011 in what could have been a bid to convince him to demand a trade to Hollywood or simply an attempt to facilitate his removal from the Western Conference.
It's also the same Mamba who played mind games with his own team only last season, essentially daring them to trade Pau Gasol even though he was vehemently against it.
Does Kobe Bryant really believe that Carmelo Anthony is the toughest cover in the NBA?
Thus, how are we supposed to take anything Bryant does at face value when he stands to gain from the exact opposite taking place?
His depiction of—bordering on infatuation with—Anthony could be a sham. Or, it could be legitimate.
But yet again, we don't know.
"Oh, for sure," Bryant said when asked if Melo should be in the MVP conversation. "Is that even a question? I don’t think that’s a question."
Honestly, no Kobe, it's not a question. Your support of such a reality, however, is.