The Kobe-LeBron rivalry showed what I love about basketball: friendship

Whenever I saw Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play against or with each other, it was always one of the most exciting times I can remember watching hoops.

Bryant was among nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, California. He was 41. Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, also died in the crash. Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa and three daughters.

With the world losing an icon, it’s hard to put into words how much Bryant meant to basketball and the people who love the game. A five-time champion, Bryant was arguably synonymous with basketball. He was one of the purest hoopers to ever grace this Earth. And his loss is bigger than the game.

But thinking back on the rivalry between Bryant and James, one of the most famous rivalries in hoops history, reminds me of the friendly, yet competitive battles I have with my close friends.

Because for all their competitive battles, Bryant and James were friends who simply enjoyed sharing the court together. They may not have hung out at each other’s houses, but basketball doesn’t get much purer than when LeBron and Kobe went at it. To this day, playing basketball with my friends or talking about the sport with them is what makes my passion for the game shine bright.

Any time I play against one of my friends, I know it’s going to be a hard day on the court. My friends know all my moves, and shots are hard to come by. But at the same time, sharing the floor with them is what makes basketball so fun. The friendships I’ve created through basketball are some of my strongest ones.

Bryant, one of the best scorers the game has seen, wouldn’t hold back on anyone — and he especially didn’t hold back on James. And James, one of the smartest players ever, would control games like only he can while playing Bryant.

In 22 regular season meetings, James and Bryant brought out the best in each other. According to Basketball Reference, James averaged 28.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists in games against Bryant. Bryant averaged 24.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists. James had a 16-6 head-to-head record against Bryant.

The respect the two players had for each other was endless. And it dated back long before LeBron was ever on an NBA court. Bryant’s last tweet congratulated James for passing him on the all-time scoring list. Following the Los Angeles Lakers loss against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, James spoke about what Bryant meant to him.

For me, basketball is about friendships. That’s part of why the news of Bryant’s passing hit me so hard. It seemed as if I talked with my friends all day about it. A good deal of my friends love basketball, and for us, basketball truly does give a spark to our lives.

That’s why for all the times I’ve played against my friends, playing on the same team has been much sweeter. Playing basketball with your friends consists of having an unspoken language on the court. My friends and I always seem to be in sync when playing pickup hoops.

While they never played together on an NBA team, Bryant and James did get to play together for Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. Bryant and James were electric while on the 2008 Redeem Team. Both players averaged at least 15.0 points per game, and they were crucial in leading the U.S. to the gold medal.

But watching the fun-loving, behind-the-scenes videos of their time with Team USA is even better. The video below is from the 2008 Olympics, and James was mimicking Bryant’s mannerisms, including when Bryant would call for an isolation.

The Kobe-LeBron rivalry was a rivalry in the sense that it was two greats giving each other their best.

But to its core, it was what basketball represents to me: friendship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s