LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the rest of the basketball world mourned the one-year anniversary of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and seven others this week. The Lakers didn’t publicly hold a tribute, but several players spoke at length about Bryant’s legacy.
James was the Lakers’ first superstar since Bryant retired, and along with Anthony Davis, led the team in ending their 10-year championship drought last season. It was a title the Lakers said they wanted to win in Bryant’s memory.
When asked about his first time matching up against Bryant, James couldn’t help but remember it fondly. “I was just in awe. It’s a guy who, along with a lot of other guys, was on my wall,” he said.
“That I would tape on my wall when I lived in Spring Hill in apartment 602. He was on my wall. He had a nice collage on my wall. It’s a guy who decided to make the jump from high school to the NBA.
“I was thinking about doing that at one point in my junior year, then really stopped thinking about it. But I kind of thought, ‘If Kobe’s done it, it’s someone I can hopefully learn from one day. Along with K.G. and T-Mac.’
“Just being out on the floor with him, if you remember, he gave me a pair of his shoes when I was a junior in high school. To be able to share the floor with him, for any kid who has aspirations or aspiring moments, it’s like a sense of awe of the grace that he played the game with and the passion and the determination to just go out and dominate you was something that I loved.
“Something that I was like, ‘I can pick up from that.’ There was not much dialogue at all. As you guys know, Kobe was not on the floor to talk to anybody. He’s out there to kill you, he’s out there to dethrone you, he’s out there to really stranglehold you. It was just an awe moment. It was something I will never ever forget.”
While James couldn’t remember any specific plays from that night, he did say there were countless moves by Bryant that left him shocked. “I can sit here and say absolutely, it definitely happened. When it happened, was I on defense, was I on offense, I have no idea,” James said.
“But it definitely happened, for sure. There were a couple guys that when you were on the floor with them for the first time — was Kobe, A.I and T-Mac — that you were just like, ‘Wow. I made it. I’m here with these guys and I can’t believe it.’”
Although James is only in a third season with the Lakers — Years 16 through 18 of his Hall of Fame career — he fully understands the impact that Bryant had on the game of basketball and the Los Angeles community.
He’s done a remarkable job carrying Bryant’s torch and leading the franchise in his absence.
Anthony Davis reflects on Bryant’s impact
Although Davis did not grow up only watching Bryant closely, he always admired how much his game mirrored Michael Jordan and what that meant for his era of players.
“Being from Chicago, MJ, and then watching Kobe kind of emulate his game and back-to-the-basket turnaround stuff always stood out to me,” Davis said. “Just how much space you can create with a small turn of the shoulder, so I always watched that aspect.”
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