- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been spotted in previous offseasons cheering on his good friend (link) and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, whose team will host its rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, on Thursday night in Boston.
Belichick won't be in attendance -- in fact, he'll be closer to Los Angeles than Boston as he participates in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week (link) -- but he'll likely keep tabs on the game that pits Rivers against another friend: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
Yes, Belichick and Bryant have a friendship that dates back to the 2008 offseason, when Belichick approached Bryant in the closing seconds of a Game 6 loss in the NBA Finals to the Celtics, which clinched their 17th title in franchise history.
Bryant explained their first encounter in an exclusive interview with Jackie MacMullan in a story now posted on ESPNBoston.com (link).
"I'm sitting there on the bench, just beside myself, burning with frustration, and I look over and Bill Belichick is walking towards me," Kobe recalled. "I had never met him. Never spoken to him. He had courtside seats across from our bench, and with 20 seconds left in the game, he came over and said, 'Don't you worry about this. I know what you are going through. We just lost a tough one ourselves (to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII). Just bounce back. Be ready next year.'
"He didn't have to say that. The clock was winding down, we were getting ready to walk off. I thought it was really cool. Respect across our professions."
Bryant told MacMullan that the two communicate periodically, and that Belichick addressed the Lakers locker room last season.
"He talked to me about how he coaches the game, how he minimizes mistakes, the value of a possession," Bryant told MacMullan. "Very interesting topics."
While Belichick won't be on hand Thursday night, Bryant is hopeful that tight end Rob Gronkowski will be.
"I'm hoping Gronk will be there," he said. "I like him. He seems to perform at a high level every time out. Last time we were in town we talked for a little bit. He was a fun guy."
Gronkowski has faced recent criticism after video surfaced of him dancing and executing a wrestling maneuver on a stage in Las Vegas while he continues to recover from a broken forearm.
Bryant suggested the incident was no big deal.
"Everyone is so worked up about how he did (in Vegas)," he said of Gronkowski. "It's funny, if there were camera phones back in the day, the biggest athletes in the world would have had a lot of explaining to do."
Despite Bryant's friendship with Belichick and admiration for Gronkowski, he remains loyal to his hometown Philadelphia Eagles as his favorite NFL team.
Though an unlikely pair, it's clear that Bryant and Belichick's mutual respect runs deep.