LeBron James has seemed to check off a lot of boxes on his wish list in his 15-year NBA career, but there’s one thing he wanted to do but never got to: Have a planned meal with Kobe Bryant to get advice on playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James spoke about the late NBA legend during an interview with Yahoo! Sports that was released on Sunday, Sept. 27. The sit-down with Bryant was planned in 2018 after James agreed to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play for the Los Angeles Lakers, where Bryant played for 20 years.
James said that he was going to talk to Bryant about what it’s like to play for such a historic franchise but the meeting never took place due to their busy schedules. Then on Jan. 26, Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
“Of course, you think there’s going to be time for us to get together and I understand that there are regrets in life, but I definitely wish I had that moment with him,” said James. “I do remember when I decided to come here, he sent me a text right away and said, ‘Welcome, brother. Welcome to the family.’”
“That was a special moment because at the time, Laker faithful wasn’t [fully in on me],” James added. “A lot of people were saying, ‘Well, we might not want LeBron at this point in his career,’ and ‘Is he going to get us back [to the Finals]?’ So to hear from him and get his stamp of approval, it meant a lot. I don’t ever question myself, but when it’s coming from Kobe, it definitely meant a lot. … We have to remember not to take life and people for granted.”
James is about to face his former team the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 30. If the Lakers win the series, it will be the third team that James has led to a championship, already winning championships with Cleveland and Miami.
The series will also be James’ tenth NBA Finals, and he’s only one of four players who’ve been in the Finals that many times. The other players are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell. Russell won 11 NBA championships in 12 Finals appearances with the Boston Celtics.
In James’ last game, against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, he went on an offensive tear, racking up a game-high of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.
It was announced earlier this month that Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo won the NBA MVP award, his second time in a row, and James was the runner-up. James claimed coming in second bothered him, and some NBA analysts have said that he turned up his play as a result.
During his interview with Yahoo! Sports, the 35-year-old said that he could have used Bryant’s advice when he arrived in Los Angeles to play for the Lakers since it was his first time playing for such a storied franchise.
“When I played in Cleveland, I grew up 35 minutes away from there, and so I kind of knew the people,” said James. “When I went down to Miami, [Dwyane Wade] was able to give me the blueprint on that. But I never played for a historic franchise like the Lakers.”
“It’s probably like when [Alex Rodriguez] went to the Yankees,” he continued. “He probably heard from [Derek] Jeter on what it’s going to take to play in front of this. It’s different from playing with the Mariners. It’s different from the Rangers. I would have definitely loved to get that side of what it takes, what does it take to win over Laker faithful or how can I make them appreciate my game. … That would have been something to pick his brain on.”
James then said that he would have talked to Bryant about the disappointment many fans probably felt when his Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in 2009 in the Eastern Conference Finals, precluding a James-Bryant Finals matchup.
Bryant’s Lakers beat the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals that year and went on to beat the Magic in four games.
“And then probably talk about us never meeting in the Finals. Just apologizing to him,” James explained. “In f—ing ’09 when I lost to Dwight [Howard], that would have been a great conversation for sure. You know, just to be like, we didn’t give the people what they wanted.”