Isaiah Thomas shared a comical Kobe Bryant anecdote that was perpetrated by his former coach Paul Westphal. Westphal died on Saturday after which many players, coaches, and league executives paid tribute to the NBA legend on social media.
Thomas was asked on Twitter about a cool memory that he’d like to share about Westphal in the wake of the Hall of Famer’s passing. What Thomas shared was a funny story that only Westphal could have asked him to do such a thing.
At 5-foot-9, Isaiah Thomas is one of the shortest players in NBA history. Naturally, any time that he’s guarding a taller opposing player in the low block, he ends up being posted up. Despite being undersized and outmatched physically almost every night, Thomas is a handful because of his speed, quickness, and craftiness.
However, those qualities can only take Isaiah Thomas so far when the player he’s guarding is an all-time great like Kobe Bryant who’s almost a foot taller than he is. The LA Lakers great would have been too much for Thomas to guard no matter what coach Paul Westphal told him.
Or was he?
Isaiah Thomas vs Kobe Bryant in 2011-12, Paul Westphal's last season as head coach
The 2011-12 season was the only year that Isaiah Thomas was coached by Paul Westphal on the Sacramento Kings. It was Thomas’ rookie year and Westphal would be on his way out at the end of the season.
The Kings were 22-44 during the lockout-shortened campaign. Sacramento played the LA Lakers three times that year, but Kobe Bryant only played in two of them. When Westphal asked Thomas to guard the LA Lakers’ all-time scoring leader, it was in the rookie’s first-ever regular season game.
How did the rookie Isaiah Thomas fare against Kobe Bryant?
Looking at the stats from that first game, Thomas scored only five points in 13 minutes. Not bad for a rookie playing his first professional game. Bryant, however, scored 29 points but shot only 10-of-24 from the field.
Maybe Thomas had something to do with that. Regardless, Paul Westphal’s assertion that Kobe Bryant couldn’t back down the diminutive Thomas because of how their practices went was an indelible moment shared between player and coach.
Thankfully, the special moment with Westphal forever etched in Isaiah Thomas’ mind is one that fans can enjoy with him now that he shared it with the public.
R.I.P. to Paul Westphal, an NBA great as a player and as a coach.