For years, the LeBron James-Kobe Bryant relationship had been defined by not meeting in the NBA Finals.
One played in the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Finals. But the other fell short each year. It was just incredible missed timing between LeBron’s Cavaliers then Heat and LeBron’s Lakers for a whole decade.
LeBron and Kobe played together on Team USA, and they admired each other. But they didn’t share the deepest bond. LeBron had his close friends – Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Bryant was more of a loner.
When LeBron signed with the Lakers in 2018, that offered more opportunity for him and Bryant to connect. But that was amidst an iciness from some Lakers fans who’d grown accustomed to denigrating LeBron in support of Kobe (a sentiment Bryant tried to thwart). When the Lakers disappointed last season, Bryant also didn’t rush to associate himself with that team.
LeBron’s and Bryant’s relationship had changed by the time Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were starting to develop the close relationship they’ve always wanted. pic.twitter.com/TaGttNTFA7
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 29, 2020
LeBron James as absolutely devastated by this on Sunday. I’m told he didn’t sleep at all on Sunday. He was just in a really bad place all day Monday. Just what I think the hardest part for LeBron is that he and Kobe had started to develop the relationship that both of them had always wanted to have. They started to get much closer this year. Even last year, when LeBron came here, Kobe reached out to welcome him to the franchise. But he didn’t come to any games. There wasn’t much back and forth between them. And the back and forth actually started this year, when Kobe came to the game with Gianna. She actually wanted to see Trae Young. So, they came to the game. And LeBron came over, embraced Kobe, and that’s actually what started the dialogue between both of them. It’s been described to me as the relationship that they always wanted to have.
LeBron’s heartache was evident when he left the Lakers’ team flight Sunday:
LeBron also expressed his sadness on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾
The Lakers, whose game was postponed, gathered yesterday.
When James redirected his focus to what lies ahead for the grieving franchise, James said he could handle the burden of playing through grief in pursuit of the Lakers’ 17th championship.
“God gave me wide shoulders for a reason,” James said, according to multiple people who were present.
LeBron had just passed Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list. They spoke after that achievement.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
One final conversation: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had phone call late Saturday night after James passed Bryant on the NBA scoring charts, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Several Lakers players listened into call — in what would be their final memory of Bryant's voice.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 27, 2020
Bryant’s final tweet has become sadly poetic:
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020