Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kobe Bryant have a few things in common. They're the same size, play the same position, have that unique first name. They both grew up in Philadelphia suburbs where Rondae's high school team, Chester High, are rivals with Kobe's high school, Lower Merion.
However, Kobe, 37, made his NBA debut when Rondae was a little more than a year old.
Bryant is more than a Philly kid who made it to the NBA. He's a role model for Rondae. So, that first match up is special. Before the season even started --on Media Day -- Hollis-Jefferson told NetsDaily he wanted to cover Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and James Harden.
Hollis-Jefferson had his wish granted Friday night. He got his first start in the NBA just six games into the season and although his first assignment wasn't Bryant, there were moments when they were mano a mano. It was the culmination of a big week.
"He [Lionel Hollins] just came out and said, 'Put on black,'" Hollis-Jefferson said, referring to the black jerseys the starting unit wears at practices.
He had played only four minutes in the Nets loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night but was a plus-13 on the floor and swiped three steals in five minutes. Nets front office pushed Hollins to start the kid. He would be starting against his hometown hero?
As Kobe makes his farewell tour around the NBA this season, it might be the first and last time Hollis-Jefferson gets to play him at the Barclays Center. Kobe's Lakers defeated the Nets 104-98 as Brooklyn's home sounded more like a game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It gave Hollis-Jefferson a sense of the global respect that greatness earns.
But the best was yet to come.
After the game, the rookie was noticeably disappointed the Nets had lost their sixth straight game. If there was any silver lining to the crushing loss and thus far disappointing season, it's been the development of RHJ. Kobe certainly helped the argument.
Adrian Wojnarowski caught the special moment:
Bryant did do the Nets a favor on Friday, besides packing the arena for two winless teams. After the loss, a Nets official brought rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to visit with Bryant in a room off the main corridor. Hollis-Jefferson played his high school ball in Chester, Pa., near Bryant's alma mater of Lower Marion High School. Hollis-Jefferson made his first NBA start, but left with a another substantial thrill: meeting Bryant for the first time.
As Bryant and Hollis-Jefferson huddled inside the room, a Nets official nodded toward his rookie and said, "Player development." They knew Hollis-Jefferson would listen to what Bryant told him, and made sure they had an audience before Bryant left the arena.
Here's what Rondae Hollis-Jefferson posted to Instagram shortly after:
Bryant finished the game with 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting. It wasn't his best outing, but it's the most points he's scored this year and it came in front of a crowd essentially worshiping the "Black Mamba" one last time. Hollis-Jefferson was on the losing side of the battle, but impress with 11 rebounds, five points, three assists and one steal in 25 minutes.
Hollis-Jefferson has a different craft than Kobe. He illuminates the defensive side of the ball rather than the offensive. But at 20 years old, it isn't the worst thing in the world to have the skill set of defending some of the NBA's best, while taking time in the off-season to develop a jump shot.
Maybe Kobe gave him some more tips. Maybe he can give him more when he retires. We're pretty sure Rondae would listen. Perhaps it could over over a cheesesteak in their hometown?