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Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, and a tale about going against your idol

Charles Krupa/Associated Press/File 2016

Terry Rozier went from idolizing Dwyane Wade to guarding him.

But perhaps the second-year guard should’ve waited until after the season to admit that he’s always looked up to Wade. At least that’s what teammate Isaiah Thomas said. And Thomas is speaking from experience.

Thomas was asked Tuesday about guarding his favorite player, Kobe Bryant, for the first time. He launched into full-on story mode, offering a quintessential Kobe tale.

“You’ve never heard my story, man? I’m going to tell you my story. So it was the first game of the season, Sacramento Kings vs. the Lakers. And there was a rule in training camp; guys tried to back me down and they always turned it over, so [coach] Paul Westphal was like, ‘There’s no backing down Isaiah.’

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“So when he subbed me in the game, everybody was like, ‘Who’s guarding Kobe?’ Paul Westphal’s like, ‘Isaiah got Kobe. Remember, nobody’s backing you down.’ I’m like, ‘Come on man. That’s my favorite player.’ When he got in the game, there were three straight plays he isolated me and he backed me down. And I’m just smiling.

“He scored on me three times and I’m just running back smiling. Like, that was the first time I ever smiled when somebody scored on me, but it was Kobe Bryant. That was my favorite player of all time. So it was surreal. It didn’t seem real. So I was happy he scored on me.

“But when Paul Westphal said that, I said, ‘Man, don’t gas me up. That’s Kobe. He backs anybody down.’ So it was a cool little welcome to the NBA story.”

And what about the next time the two met on the hardwood?

“The next game, I just tried to play my game. Because all that game, I was just trying to get Kobe’s attention. I was trying to look in his eyes and he was like looking through me, like I wasn’t even there.”

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Five years after their first two matchups, before Bryant’s final game in Boston last season, Bryant pulled Thomas aside for a 20-minute conversation, just the two of them.

“It’s crazy how five years later I got to sit down and talk to him, and he knows who I am. The next game it was like, ‘Man, forget Kobe because he didn’t even say hi to me or nothing.’ So I wasn’t even looking at him as my favorite player no more. But I’m different, so [Rozier] might still like D-Wade.”


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach. Rachel G. Bowers can be reached at rachel.bowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @RachelGBowers.