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Rajon Rondo on relationship with Kobe Bryant: 'ultimate competitor'

Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo have not always gotten along on the court but they respect each other. "We see the game in a similar fashion in terms of our aggressiveness and mindset," Rondo said. Brian Babineau/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant missed Tuesday's 106-98 loss to the Sacramento Kings with a sore shoulder, meaning the Los Angeles Lakers star missed a chance to face off against one of his most bitter rivals and closest friends one last time.

That would be Rajon Rondo, the Kings' point guard whom Bryant faced in two NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010 when Rondo played for the Boston Celtics.

Their relationship evolved from fiercely competitive to friendly, with the two even sharing a highly-publicized breakfast in Beacon Hill in Boston during the 2014-15 season.

"I don't have a lot of friends," Rondo said Tuesday. "I'm just friends with a lot of a--h---s: Kobe, DeMarcus [Cousins], Josh Smith, Big Baby [Glen Davis]. We're the same kind. What I love about all of us is we're competitors on and off the court. Hate to lose. I'm not going to say there's not many competitors in this game, but there's a certain kind of way you compete at that level and you have respect for one another."

And that's why Rondo said he respects Bryant so much.

"One of the best competitors of all time that I've ever played against," said Rondo, whose Celtics beat Bryant's Lakers in 2008 and fell to them in 2010. "Even watching him against LeBron [James] the other day, [Bryant] might be of age, when it's time to compete and the lights are on, he always shows up ... even when he didn't play well.

"The last game they won here, Game 7 [of the 2010 Finals] I think, he played [poorly] [Bryant shot 6-of-24 from the field], but he had like [15] rebounds. He found another way to impact the game. That's all you can ask for from your star. Some guys will pout or shut down if they're not scoring or not hitting, but he does the intangibles when needed."

When asked if a specific memory of Bryant stood out, Rondo recalled an instance when Rondo shoved Bryant, then Bryant threateningly pointed his finger in Rondo's face.

"I can't say what he said," Rondo said with a smile. "I thrive off of that. I wanted the challenge. He pissed me off a little bit when he did that. I felt disrespected and I wanted to go back at him -- and we beat 'em. Then two years later they beat us."

Rondo added, "That's basketball. That's not old basketball, because they got to fight without any fines. But you're not friends on the court when you're out there competing trying to dominate from time to time. It might get ugly from time to time. At the end of the day you shake hands, maybe, and you have a certain respect."

Despite that instance, the two grew close.

"We get along extremely well," Bryant said in 2014 after their notable breakfast sit-down. "We see the game in a similar fashion in terms of our aggressiveness and mindset. It was good to get together with him."

Bryant has called Rondo "extremely intelligent. Very, very smart. Prepares very well, and he understands the deeper [subtleties] of the game."

Bryant once complimented Rondo in a back-handed way by saying, "From what I understand, he's an a--h---, like me."

Speaking of their breakfast together, Rondo later fired back, "I think he called me an a--h---. I thought the same thing of him. Just two a--h---s having breakfast."

On Tuesday, Rondo said Bryant initiated what developed into their friendship, which Rondo admitted was surprising.

"A little bit, but we had dialogue throughout some of the games we played in the series," Rondo said. "He's kind of like DeMarcus. If he senses any weakness, he's going to attack, but when he had to check me the whole series, he would talk a lot of trash. Obviously I wasn't going to back down. My teammates wouldn't allow me to.

"I think that's when he got the respect from me as a player and probably started to watch my game. He's a student of the game. When I'm out there on the court talking, I'm calling out a lot of his plays. I might call out his move. He might laugh here and there, but you notice those types of things. LeBron did that to me the other day as well. He called out a play and knew what I was going to do before I was going to do it just because he knows the game. You appreciate students of the game. I do, anyway."

How would Rondo describe Bryant in one word?

"Competitor," Rondo said. "Ultimate competitor -- two words."