The last time Kobe Bryant faced off against the Phoenix Suns, a team he called his rival, a rookie Devin Booker was his matchup.
Booker’s 28 points and 7 assists was enough to outshine Kobe’s 17 points, as the Suns defeated the Lakers 119-107. After the game Kobe asked the Phoenix rookie to speak with him after the game.
There, Bryant gave a gift — a signed pair of shoes with a message.
To Booker’s credit, he has cherished those words and continued to craft his game around the “Mamba Mentality.”
Inside the NBA bubble, Booker elevated his play to a whole new level, adding leadership and team success to his resume. After a game against the Indiana Pacers, Booker told reporters that “Kobe’s with me every day.”
"Kobe's with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes; to 'Be Legendary.' That's a reminder."
—Devin Booker while wearing a shirt that pays homage to Kobe pic.twitter.com/ZJ1GvJeY50
— ESPN (@espn) August 6, 2020
Ever since Kobe gifted Booker the shoes signed “be legendary,” Booker has used Kobe as his inspiration.
During a March 2017 game against the Boston Celtics, Booker went off for 70 points. After that game Booker attributed his scoring outbreak to Kobe, stating the Lakers legend once told him never be content no matter how many points you’ve scored.
When Kobe Bryant passed, Booker was distraught for weeks. He said that Kobe meant “everything” to him.
“It’s been a lot of what I do, man, mentality wise, approach wise everything, before I even knew him personally, he had shaped my life. My basketball career. My approach to everything.”
Booker kept that approach as he and the Suns entered the NBA bubble with 10,000 to 1 odds of making the playoffs. They had a 0.1% chance of winning all 8 seeding games.
Booker didn’t care about the odds. He didn’t care that it was almost impossible to overcome. Booker just went out, attacked the situation with the Mamba mentality.
Booker and the Suns ran the table, going 8-0 and were a Caris LeVert step back away from making it into the play in game. The feel good story of the bubble came to a heartbreaking end, but it is just the beginning for Booker’s Suns.
D-Book and the Suns' incredible bubble run has come to an end.
W, 27 Pts, 7 Reb
W, 35 Pts, 9 Reb, 7 Ast
W, 35 Pts, 5 Reb
W, 35 Pts, 6 Ast
W, 20 Pts, 10 Ast
W, 35 Pts, 8 Ast
W, 30 Pts, 4 Ast
W, 27 Pts, 5 Reb pic.twitter.com/ipH8PfHFTh
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 14, 2020
He and head coach Monty Williams have changed the culture and narrative surrounding the franchise. Coach Williams gave a speech to the team after their final game in the bubble.
“This is special. Don’t let anybody take this away from you. You gained the respect of the league.”
Monty Williams gives emotional speech after Suns went 8-0 in the bubble
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 13, 2020
Devin Booker shared that sentiment, saying he is proud of his teammates for everything they’ve done inside the bubble.
"I'm proud of this group."
– @DevinBook pic.twitter.com/TFqD8qeLVP
— 8-0 (@Suns) August 13, 2020