Ray Allen Paid Tribute To Kobe Bryant, His 1996 NBA Draft Classmate, And It Was Beautiful

Former NBA star Ray Allen paid tribute to Kobe Bryant earlier this week via social media.

After the NBA legend and longtime Los Angeles Lakers star played the final game of his 20-season career, many fans and fellow NBA players used social media to bid farewell to Kobe Bryant in one way or another.

What made Ray Allen’s tribute so special, though, was the history that he and Bryant shared within the NBA overall. Their journeys as professional basketball players in the NBA both started in the same year at the 1996 NBA Draft.

Allen did not hesitate to mention this in his beautiful tribute to Kobe Bryant, claiming that the NBA Draft Class of 1996 is one of the greatest classes in history.

“It was certainly a great honor to compete against you [Kobe Bryant]. You and I had some epic battles. The class of 96 will go down as one of the greatest of all times. What you brought to the game certainly changed it and set a new standard for those behind you. You played with an awesome drive and a competitive spirit that will be remembered forever. Congratulations to you on a Hall of Fame career!!!! #mamba #96draft”

Ray Allen’s tribute to Kobe Bryant on Instagram was not the only time that he has gone public with his admiration for the man known as “Black Mamba” this month. In an interview with Slam magazine, he opened up about the emotions that he experienced watching Kobe’s farewell season.

“It just gives me pause, thinking about the last two decades… Just thinking about the eras that we played in, the players that we played with. It was such a great ride, because he’s won championships, but I think he’d also tell you that some of the bad teams were some of the funnest times, too, because you learn a lot. That’s how you appreciate winning a championship. He was a pace setter in the game, and he ushered in a lot of young people into the game of basketball. You always have to bow to the end of an era.”

When asked if there was one particular Kobe Bryant highlight that stuck out the most to him, Ray Allen stated that he didn’t “think of anything in particular.” He reflected on going head-to-head with Kobe on the court “pretty good,” and how their battles were competitive. He defined the two seasons when he and the Celtics went against Kobe and the Lakers in the NBA Finals as “the best rivalry in the NBA,” which “was definitely great for TV and it was great competition.”

Kobe Bryant Ray Allen [Photo by Elsa/Getty Images]Looking back at the 1996 NBA Draft, Ray Allen was definitely right about the draft class producing a lot of record-setting stars that made waves on their respective teams.

The first overall pick was used by the Philadelphia 76ers to sign the recently inducted Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. Several picks later, Ray Allen was selected at No. 5 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kobe Bryant was actually selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick. However, the Hornets were apparently more interested in Vlade Divac, so they traded Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for him.

Moments after Kobe Bryant was selected in the 1996 NBA Draft, Steve Nash was chosen at No. 15 to join the Phoenix Suns. One of Kobe Bryant’s future longtime teammates, Derek Fisher, was also selected in the same draft class with the 24th pick.

Those weren’t the only star players that came out of the 1996 NBA Draft. Other stars that had their respective moments in the spotlight in addition to Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant included names like Stephon Marbury, Marcus Camby, and Jermaine O’Neal. With his decision to retire from the NBA, Kobe Bryant left the court this week as the last remaining active player from the 1996 NBA Draft class.

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]