Kobe Bryant has never had a clear-cut rival.
Magic Johnson's biggest rival was Larry Bird.
Kobe, on the other hand, doesn't have one main rival. Many specialists have came out and claimed they can stop Kobe and they've gotten in his face, but they've never developed into Bryant's arch rival.
Instead, Kobe has had many rivals throughout his career. He's also been compared to a great legend and a rising legend. Finally, he's had a feud with an ex-teammate that developed into a rivalry.
Here are Kobe's top nine rivals throughout his career.
Matt Barnes can't be called Kobe's rival anymore because they're teammates, but when he played for the Orlando Magic, he tried to give Kobe misfits. The key word is tried.
The Barnes and Kobe rivalry escalated in the 2009-10 season during Barnes' only year with the Magic. In a January matchup at Staples Center, the Lakers won a tight affair against Orlando. Kobe was limited to 11 points. Barnes did a great job against him.
However, two months later in Orlando, Kobe went off for more than 30 points in a heated matchup. Barnes couldn't stop Kobe, but he hit a clutch three pointer late in the game to give the Magic the victory.
The feisty Barnes also got into Kobe's face and the highlight of the game was when he got the basketball and pretended he was throwing it at Kobe's face at point blank range, yet Kobe didn't even flinch.
Barnes eventually decided to sign with the Lakers to join forces with the cold-blooded assassin.
Ruben Patterson once boasted that he was the "Kobe Stopper" when he played for the Seattle SuperSonics more than a decade ago.
He may have had a case. Patterson's teams defeated Kobe's Lakers 14 out of 23 games. However, Kobe wasn't really stopped. He averaged 29.3 points in those 23 games and absolutely torched Patterson's Blazers in the 2002 playoffs, averaging 26 points and five assists when matched with Patterson.
Sure, there were a few games where Kobe was held below 20 points. It's not like the nickname came out of nowhere. There were times he did a great job against Kobe. However, in the end, Kobe showed who's boss. Towards the end of Patterson's career, there were games where Kobe would go off for more than 35 points on numerous occasions against Patterson.
So, this is a lesson to be wary when picking a nickname.
Bruce Bowen was brought in as a defensive specialist to contain Kobe Bryant.
However, the containment would happen during the regular season, not the playoffs. In 32 head-to-head matchups between Bruce Bowen and Bryant, Bowen's teams defeated the Lakers 18 out of 32 times. In those games, Kobe was held in "check", scoring "only" 26.3 points per game.
In the playoffs, it was a different story. Bryant's Lakers won 14 out of 22 games against Bowen's teams and Kobe averaged almost 29 points.
Out of the four playoff series the two combatants played in, there was only one series where Bowen actually shut down Kobe and that came in 2003 when the Spurs ousted the Lakers and went on to win the Finals.
In Game 6 of that series, Kobe only scored 20 points and turned the ball over seven times in the series-ending loss.
It's fair to say, though, that Kobe owned this rival, too.
There has been a running theme here of players who have been brought by certain teams as defensive specialists to stop Kobe but have failed miserably.
Doug Christie is another one of those guys.
Like everyone else in the league, Christie struggled to contain Kobe, but there were times where he actually did stop him. In April 2004, Christie held Kobe to only eight points in a Lakers loss.
That was the regular season, though.
The postseason was different. Kobe averaged 30 points against Christie and probably appeared in all of his nightmares during all of the times when the Lakers would own the Kings in the playoffs.
Raja Bell is best remembered for clotheslining Kobe Bryant in Game 5 of the 2006 playoffs. For that reason alone, Bryant and Bell could be considered foes, but Bell actually has some track record of limiting Kobe's production.
Bell was instrumental in containing Kobe Bryant back when the Suns were one of the best teams in the league. The Suns played the Lakers twice in the playoffs and won both series and Bell gets a lot of credit for containing Kobe.
Kobe never scored more than 30 points in the 2006 series. He played better in 2007, but the Lakers still lost the series.
That being said, Kobe has still averaged 27 points against Bell's teams in the playoffs.
LeBron James and Kobe play different positions so they don't guard each other much, but they have at some instances. More importantly, they are the two biggest names in the league today and are often compared. The debate between who is better between the two players probably won't be decided until LeBron retires and wins a few rings, preferably against Kobe.
However, these are all regular-season games. With LeBron now on the Heat, it is more than likely we will finally see an NBA Finals matchup between Kobe and LeBron soon. This matchup will elevate the rivalry to astronomical levels.
Until then, LeBron is Kobe's fourth-biggest rival.
It's clear that Paul Pierce is less talented than Kobe.
However, the playoff matchups between the two guards has really elevated the rivalry between the two foes. First of all, the two teams are the biggest rivals in basketball and because of that, the two best players on the two teams naturally have to become rivals.
In 19 regular-season games, Kobe barely has more points per game than Pierce, leading him 26.7 to 25.2. In those 19 games, the Lakers have won 11 of them, but most of those came when the Celtics were cellar-dwellers.
What matters most is what they've done in the Finals against each other. Pierce has been heavily contained and has had plenty of assistance from guys like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, especially in the 2008 Finals. In Game 3 of the 2008 Finals, Pierce scored a grand total of six points. Pierce, in the two series, has averaged a little over 17 points per game.
Kobe, on the other hand, has been difficult to control. He's averaged 27.2 points in the two series. His biggest struggles came in the first half of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. However, Ron Artest and the rest of the Lakers bailed him out that night as the Lakers won their 16th title.
It would be nice to see the two rivals meet again in an NBA Finals.
After winning three championships together, Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal had a detrimental feud that ended the Lakers dynasty in the early 2000s. Shaq was traded to Miami where he won his fourth ring while Kobe became a one-man show for the struggling Lakers.
The Pau Gasol trade along with the emergence of Andrew Bynum gave Bryant some help as he added two more rings to his collection to surpass his former teammate.
In the press conference following Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Kobe exclaimed that he now had one more ring than Shaq.
The well-documented feud developed when both played on the Lakers. Both players disagreed and had arguments regarding the direction of the team on the court. Shaq would call Kobe selfish and Kobe once took a personal shot at Shaq after his alleged rape case, saying that Shaq pays off women.
The team's chemistry was so horrendous that it couldn't defeat a heavy underdog in the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Since the split, Shaq's teams are 11-7 against Kobe's Lakers, but Kobe has averaged 35 points in those games.
At the end of the day, Kobe Bryant is always measured up to Michael Jordan.
It's an unfair comparison because they both played in different eras, but the media and fans can't help but compare the two legends.
They obviously never played each other in their primes. A young Kobe played against Jordan's Bulls four times in the late '90s. In all four games, Kobe came off the bench and he was able to put up 33 points in a losing effort back in 1997.
The next four games came when Kobe was in his prime and Jordan was making his comeback with the Wizards. The Lakers won three of those four games and Kobe put up 55 points in Jordan's last ever game against the Lakers. Somewhat of a statement? Probably.
However, it would've been any NBA fan's dream to see both play in the same era. It would've developed into one of the greatest rivalries of all time.
Kobe is currently one ring shy of Jordan's six and he's several thousand points away from surpassing him on the all-time scoring list. Even if he does pass him, Jordan did it in far fewer games and his points per game is significantly higher than Kobe's. Kobe averages just over 25 points per game, but Jordan averaged more than 30 and missed a chunk of his prime because of his attempt at a baseball career.
Kobe has two or three great years left in him and every single basketball fan is praying the Heat and Lakers meet in the Finals so the LeBron-Kobe rivalry could be born. We never saw a Jordan-Kobe Finals, so the next best thing is this. And it ain't a bad alternative either.