But after Bryant dished at length this week about how Parker didn't belong in the NBA, his former teammate fired some shots back.
“You can't knock the man's legacy, you can't knock what he's done in basketball," Parker told Hard 2 Guard Radio, as transcribed by Larry Brown Sports. "His work ethic is tremendous. There's not an ounce of hate in my blood whatsoever. The guy can play basketball -- you've seen that throughout his career.
“What I don't like about him is the man that he is. His personality. How he treats people. I don't like that side of Kobe Bryant."
Bryant definitely showed that side as he sat in his locker room stall prior to the Lakers' preseason loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers. Though he was nursing a strained right shoulder that would keep him sidelined, Bryant was in high spirits, joking that he had a bone to pick with new teammate Steve Nash for winning the 2005-06 MVP with Phoenix, when the Lakers were a weaker team.
Nash said he didn't recall such a conversation with Bryant during training camp. But Parker said Bryant's comments reminded him of how he was treated by the Lakers superstar when they were teammates.
"Midway through the first season, I tried to at least have a conversation with Kobe Bryant -- he is my teammate, he is a coworker of mine, I see his face every day I go in to work -- and I tried to talk with him about football," Parker said. "He tells me I can't talk to him. He tells me I need more accolades under my belt before I come talk to him. He was dead serious."
"Basketball is a team sport. It is team-oriented. It is not an individual sport. It's not tennis or golf. It is a team sport. When you are the star of the team, you have to make your teammates feel comfortable. You have to make them feel welcome. And he did not do that at all.”
Parker said he didn't deserve Bryant's criticism. He averaged 11.5 points and 3.7 assists per game and finished ninth in the NBA with 140 steals during the 2005-06 season. The following year, Parker posted similar numbers in points (11.1) and assists (2.8).
“Kobe Bryant says I'm the worst point guard, that I should have never made it into the NBA — he just frowns at the thought of me playing in the backcourt with him. Like Jay-Z says, people lie, numbers don't. Just go to the stats," Parker said. “If I don't deserve to play in the NBA, why am I third on all the stat sheets on the Lakers team those years? I'm top three in all the categories.”
But Parker was a lightning rod for criticism for other reasons, too. He was known to have a surly attitude and his professionalism often came into question, including the time he missed a team plane because he overslept. Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Parker never saw eye to eye, either.
Still, Parker seems amazed that Bryant still carries such bitter memories.
“I'm lost for words .... It makes me blush. For my name to still come out of that man's mouth? It makes me blush."
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