Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson penned a heartfelt tribute to Kobe Bryant, following his tragic death on Monday (AEDT).
Iverson released a statement on Instagram, alongside a photo of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who also passed away in the helicopter crash, which claimed their lives and seven others on board.
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"Words cannot express how I'm feeling today," Iverson said.
"The only 2 words that ring in my head - devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I've tried to do since hearing this yesterday."
The pair were both drafted in 1996, with Iverson selected with the first pick in the draft and Bryant, the 13th. They faced off in a series of epic battles during their careers, none bigger than the 2001 NBA Finals, which Bryant's Lakers won in five games.
"People will always remember how we competed against each other in the league, but it goes so much deeper than that for me," Iverson continued in his statement.
"The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the NBA can be debated for many years to come. However, his generosity and respect for the game is something that I witnessed first-hand every time we stepped on the dance floor to compete."
While they were rivals on the court, the level of admiration between the two stars was something else, often citing each other as motivation to take their respective games to the next level.
"I obsessively read every article and book I could find about [Iverson]," Bryant wrote in a Players' Tribune article in 2017, following his retirement.
"I obsessively watched every game he had played, going back to the IUPU All-American Game I obsessively studied his every success, and his every struggle. I obsessively searched for any weakness I could find."
"I searched the world for musings to add to my AI Musecage.
"This led me to study how great white sharks hunt seals off the coast of South Africa.
"The patience. The timing. The angles."
Iverson shared a touching memory from their rookie season in 1996 that stuck in his mind after learning of Bryant's death, speaking to their bond which spanned throughout their entire NBA careers and beyond.
"It's one memory of him that I can't stop thinking about. It was our rookie season and my first trip to LA for a game against the Lakers. He came to my hotel, picked me up and took me to a restaurant. When we returned before he left, he asked me, "What are you going to do tonight?" My reply was, "I'm going to the club, what are you going to do?" He said, "I'm going to the gym."
"That is who he always was, a true student of the game of basketball and also the game of life. He prepared relentlessly. There is something we can all learn from the "Mamba" mentality and from the way my brother lived his life. He will always have my respect as a competitor, as a friend, as a brother."
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In his statement, Iverson also offered his condolences to the families devastated by the tragedy.
"My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Vanessa, their children and the families of all of the victims of yesterday's tragedy. As a father, I cannot wrap my head around how they must feel.
"We are not okay. But we will find the strength to pull through this together because that's what Kobe would want us to do."