Isaiah Thomas Explains How Kobe Bryant Gave Him His ‘Welcome to the NBA’ Moment

Published 05/28/2021, 1:30 PM EDT
SAN ANTONIO – MAY 7: (FILE PHOTO) Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers bites his jersey in Game two of the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at SBC Center on May 7, 2003 in San Antonio, Texas. Bryant was released on bail by the Eagle County Sheriff’s office in Colorado July 6, 2003 after posting a $25,000 bond on a felony count of sexual assault. (Photo by: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)


Kobe Bryant was the reason many of the players playing in the league today took up basketball. Boston Celtics’ cult hero, Isaiah Thomas, was no different. Not only did he admire the Mamba growing up, but he also gave Isaiah his ‘Welcome to the NBA moment.’

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The Kings had picked Isaiah #60th in the 2011 NBA Draft. Although the tough 5’9″ guard was confident in his abilities, his team had to face the Lakers in their first game of the 2011 NBA season. Appearing on ‘All the Smoke Podcast’ alongside hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, he divulged –

“When Paul Westphal put me in the game, I remember the second quarter, he’s naming who everybody got (to guard) and I am like, ‘Coach, who I got?’ He is like, ‘You got Kobe, and remember, nobody can back you down.’ It was funny because I was like, ‘I appreciate you putting me in, but Kobe’s backing everyone down.'”

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WASHINGTON, DC -NOVEMBER 24: Washington Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas (4) looks for the foul to be called late in the game against the Sacramento Kings. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

His memory of that game is strong to this day, and he recollected how Kobe got the better of him on his debut.

“He hits two out of three shots. The first shot that he hit, I am sprinting down half-court just laughing… It was the first time in my life where someone scored on me and I was smiling and happy about it because you know, that was my favorite player.

“And even touching his jersey I was like, ‘Damn. I made it.’ He could hit a fade away on me all day and I’d be solid. And that my Welcome to the NBA moment.”

How did the rest of the game unfold for Kobe Bryant and Isaiah Thomas?

The then Kings head coach, Paul Westphal, was clearing throwing Thomas in the deep end to test him. And having to guard Kobe as your first-ever assignment in the NBA was as testing as it would have got.

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The Lakers ran three isolation plays for Kobe against a young Thomas, out of which he got two baskets. The Mamba would go on to have a game-high 29 points that day while Thomas opened his NBA account with 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 13 minutes of on-court action.

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But the Kings overpowered the Lakers to record a 100-91 win and start their season with a win. Thomas’s career has been through a lot since then, including a couple of All-Star nods. And he can thank Kobe for always inspiring him to achieve that.

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Bharat Aggarwal

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Bharat Aggarwal is a sports analyst for EssentiallySports, covering Formula 1 and NBA. A Delhi University graduate, Bharat has multi-year experience in sports writing, having closely worked with the content strategy aspect as well. Bharat Aggarwal supports Manchester United, Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Dirk Nowitzki, Sachin Tendulkar, Ayrton Senna, Kristaps Porzingis, and Dallas Mavericks.

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