There aren’t many players who could stop Kobe Bryant. There are even lesser players that Kobe admits were good on defense against him. When he was into his farewell season, he presented Tony Allen a pair of sneakers – with an autograph that said “To Tony, the best defender I ever faced!”
Allen won a ring with the Celtics in 2008, but left Boston in 2010, after feeling overshadowed by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, claiming he couldn’t go further being behind them. He then joined the Grizzlies, where he was part of the Grit and Grind era. He made the all-defensive teams six times in his seven-year stay with the Grizzlies, including three first-team appearances.
Aptly nicknamed the Grindmaster, Allen’s defense has got him plaudits from two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. After Kobe praised him, last year Kevin Durant also admitted Allen was by far the best defender he has faced. If a 6’4″ guard can lock up a 7-foot all-time shooter, you know how good he is.
His lightning-quick reflexes and defensive IQ made him one of the best one-on-one defenders of all time. He could defend against any guard, despite not being super athletic. Like Scottie Pippen and Bruce Bowen, the Defensive Player of the Year trophy has also eluded Allen, despite consistently being one of the best defenders in the league.
“He has a competitive desire to compete individually. Most defensive players I face want help all the time. I’ve never heard him ask for help. He likes taking the challenge.” Kobe’s words hold value not just because he was one of the best offensive players, but he was also a nine-time all-defensive member. He knew how to defend. So praise coming from Mamba sets Allen apart from the rest.
When Doug Gottlieb asked Allen who was tougher to guard, Lebron or Kobe, Allen picked the latter. “I would have to say I just like Kobe’s relentlessness. I see him not getting discouraged.” He also admitted that LeBron was still early in his career and Kobe was in his prime during their matchups.
Allen got the better of Kobe during the 2008 NBA Finals. But Bryant rallied back in 2010 when he beat Allen and the Celtics in the Finals. Tony Allen may still not get the appreciation he deserves from fans, but to be told by Kobe that you’re his toughest opponent holds tremendous value.