There was a time when Raja Bell was “the Kobe stopper.” Well, as much as anyone ever actually stopped Kobe, but Bell’s physical, tenacious defense made Kobe Bryant really have to work for his buckets. They went at it hard in the 2006 playoffs — Phoenix’s Bell was suspended for a game in that series after clotheslining Kobe — then again the next year. Kobe famously said he had “bigger fish to fry” than Bell when asked about it.
This was personal — Bell hated Bryant at the time, he told Drew Ruiz of Hoops Hype. However, as they matured there became real respect between the two.
There were a lot on the court. We traded a lot of elbows and a lot of smack-talking and whatnot, but some of my favorite memories are when I go back and we were skewing through the media at that time. I don’t know how Kobe felt, but I genuinely hated the cat at that time. I really didn’t like him. Then the coolest part about it for me was once the time had passed and I saw him the next time, we started to develop a little bit of respect. There was a relationship that started to develop. We never became besties or anything like that, but there was a time when I’d reach out and see if he needed anything or somewhere to be for Thanksgiving if they were in town or I’d ask about his family and just check in. I felt that was pretty cool. That was my favorite part about that whole thing. There seemed to be a respect level that we got to and when you can say you did that with one of the best players of all time that’s pretty cool for me.
That’s how it goes, especially with Kobe — he respects the people who challenged him, who pushed him. That respect was evident in 2010 when Kobe was trying to recruit Bell to the Lakers to add some depth to the roster (that partnership didn’t come together).