DURING A STORIED 14-year NBA career, Tony Allen was named to six All-Defensive teams and earned the nickname "The Grindfather" for his abilities as one of the league's most hard-nosed perimeter defenders.
But on Feb. 22, 2005, he was a 24-year-old rookie guard staring at one unenviable task: Shut down Kobe Bryant.
"I was definitely hyped," Allen told ESPN. "I had Paul Pierce in my ear telling me, 'Get ready! You stick me every day [in practice]. You should be ready. Let's go! That's Kobe Bryant!'"
The No. 25 pick in the 2004 draft was trying to soak everything in and get himself in the right frame of mind for the 54th game of his young NBA career.
"I'm trying to be tough and telling myself, 'I'm not scared,'" Allen said.
Meanwhile, he was drenched in sweat, his palms and underarms sweating so profusely he had to change his warm-up shirt. When Allen finally got on the floor against Bryant, he realized what he was up against.
"I'm out there [guarding him] and I'm like, 'What am I going to do?'" Allen said.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the opening tip and quickly got the ball to Bryant in isolation on the right wing. Allen got down in his defensive stance and reached out with his left arm to keep track of Bryant.
Bryant swung the ball past Allen's extended arm, drawing a foul and going to the free throw line just 16 seconds into the game. Less than two minutes later, the scene repeated itself: Allen, the inexperienced rookie, finding himself with no choice but to foul Bryant, then a three-time NBA champion.