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Kobe Bryant admits to hating the Suns, passes the torch to Devin Booker

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) dishes around Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Kobe Bryant’s back-and-forth of 87 volleys with the Phoenix Suns finally came to an end Wednesday night, and so the Los Angeles Lakers legend could finally speak his mind.

After scoring 17 points against the Suns in a 119-107 loss, the future Hall of Fame guard let us know what we all imagine burned inside him through his 20 seasons in the NBA, facing a Pacific Division rival.

Yes, a true rival.

“It was two years that they knocked us out and we just had some unbelievable games here. That was a real rivalry to me,” Bryant told the Phoenix media after his final game in the Valley. “The Sacramento one wasn’t one because we beat them every time. Phoenix, I mean, they kicked our butts and we had to bounce back and overcome them. That’s a true rivalry.

“There’s no misunderstanding, there’s no wiggle room there. I hated them, absolutely,” he added. “They stopped me from getting a championship…twice. Damn right, I hated them: Raja (Bell) Steve (Nash), all of those good guys. No question, but at the same time I loved them because they brought the best out of me and my teammates, so the relationship is a love-hate relationship because I hated the fact that they were that good. They kept us from winning, but at the same time, I loved how good they were and I knew we had to be better. It’s a love-hate relationship.”

The now-softened Bryant has led his farewell tour far from the isolated, cold killer he fashioned his brand after through the years. This wasn’t the Black Mamba and hasn’t been since Bryant announced earlier this season that 2015-16 would be his last.

Bryant is giving back and has all year long, meeting with young stars, handing out advice and becoming an open book.

Following the Suns’ victory, after Bryant’s 17 points and minus-23 plus-minus became quite the opposite as Suns rookie Devin Booker’s 28 points, seven assists and plus-23 box score plus-minus, the Lakers star asked the Phoenix rookie to speak with him after the game.

There, Bryant gave a gift — a signed pair of shoes with a message.

“Be legendary.”

Booker, in his first and only meeting against a childhood idol, soaked it all in.

Even during the game, it was clear Booker cherished the moment. On his first touch with Bryant defending him in the first quarter, the Suns rookie caught the ball on the right post with the legend on his back. He took a few dribbles to back in, then off one leg let a clearly-Bryant-influenced fadeaway go.

It was a miss.

“It’s just something I will remember for the rest of my life and I can tell my kids about,” said the 19-year-old. “I remember me catching the ball and I had it in kind of the short post. And I missed the shot but I used one of his moves against him and that’s the first thing he said against me. ‘You’re trying to use my own move against me?’ He said that right at the end of the game, so it was fun. That was the only time we matched up but like I said it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

And in the end, Bryant showed little emotion as far as the Lakers loss was concerned. As he departed with just more than a minute left, he waved to a sold-out Talking Stick Resort Arena standing ovation.

Then, he officially passed the torch to Booker.

“I think the most important thing about my career is being able to pass it on and have the next generation of athletes embody the same spirit and learn some of the same techniques and have that same mindset,” Bryant said. “That’s the coolest thing to me. Playing against Booker tonight, I mean he went straight to my move the first time he caught it. ‘You don’t have to beat me on my move man!’ But it was great to see, it was absolutely great to see because I remember I did the same thing with MJ.”

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