Throughout its storied history the NBA has benefitted from transcendent players who often times made for memorable rivalries. Magic Johnson had Larry Bird, Michael Jordan had the ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons, and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James had each other, albeit to a much lesser degree.
Bryant for several years stood atop the league as the unquestioned supreme talent. He outperformed the likes of Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, among other contemporaries. But James steadily began to encroach on Bryant’s standing.
James eventually overtook the five-time champion as Bryant went into the twilight of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. While Bryant is now in his second year of retirement, debate over which player was better carries on.
During an appearance on the Holding Court with Geno Auriemma podcast, Bryant named James as the one player he’d like to play with his in prime:
“I think the player that would fit with me the most, I actually think would be LeBron. He’s a passer first, I’m a scorer, I’m a finisher. ‘Bron is a facilitator by nature and I’m a finisher by nature. Those two styles, I think compliment each other extremely well.”
While some of Bryant’s fiery nature subsided in the latter stages of his career, head-to-head contests with James-led teams remained must-see television. The spirit of competition drew out the best each superstar had to offer, with James getting the better of Bryant’s Lakers more times than not.
While the regular-season matchups were a sight to behold, the burning desire for a meeting in the playoffs was never fulfilled. Bryant and James appeared to be on a collision course in the 2009 playoffs, but the Orlando Magic shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers to reach the NBA Finals.
Bryant and the Lakers went on to defeat the Magic in five games to capture the first of back-to-back titles. Although debate over which player was better may forever carry on, Bryant and James will go down as two of the best the NBA has ever had to offer.
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