LeBron James Regrets Never Having Lakers Conversation with Kobe Bryant: I ‘Wish I Had That Moment’

John McCoy/Getty Images Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

For the first time since Kobe Bryant helped to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title in 2010, the team is on the brink of winning another — this time behind superstar LeBron James.

The Lakers are now four wins away from securing the title, and if successful, they would bring an emotional (and fitting) end to one of the most demanding and challenging seasons in NBA history. In just eight months, the world experienced the untimely death of Bryant, a historic pandemic, and the start of months-long protests calling for the end of systemic racism and police brutality.

While speaking with reporters after winning the Western Conference Championship this week, James reflected on his two-year journey with the Lakers, and how he and Bryant had made plans to have a one-on-one meeting shortly after he signed with the team. Unfortunately, their schedules never allowed it to happen.

“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,” James told Yahoo Sports.

But James was grateful for how welcoming Bryant was upon his arrival in Los Angeles, despite many in the Lakers fanbase being initially wary of him joining the team in 2018.

“I do remember when I decided to come here, he sent me a text right away and said, ‘Welcome, brother. Welcome to the family,’ ” the 35-year-old said. “That was a special moment because at the time, Laker faithful wasn’t [fully in on me]. A lot of people were saying, ‘Well, we might not want LeBron at this point in his career,’ and, ‘Is he right? Is he going to get us back [to the Finals]?’”

 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

“So to hear from him and get his stamp of approval, it meant a lot,” James said. “I don’t ever question myself, but when it’s coming from Kobe, it definitely meant a lot.”

Though never met in the NBA Finals, Bryant and James were viewed as friendly rivals throughout their careers. Bryant, along with Shaquille O’Neal, led the Lakers to three consecutive championships in the early 2000s, followed later by back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

James won two championships with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013, and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title over the heavily favored Golden State Warriors in 2016 — the year Bryant retired from the NBA.

 

“When I played in Cleveland, I grew up 35 minutes away from there, and so I kind of knew the people. 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,” James told Yahoo Sports of the help he received during his career. “It’s probably like when [Alex Rodriguez] went to the Yankees. 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,” he added. “That would have been something to pick his brain on.”

“So touched by your request to honor my Gigi,” Vanessa Bryant said

James also said he would have loved to talk about how he and Bryant never faced each other for a championship, though they got close once in 2009.

“And then probably talk about us never meeting in the Finals. Just apologizing to him. In f—ing ’09 when I lost to Dwight [Howard], that would have been a great conversation for sure,” he recalled. “You know, just to be like, we didn’t give the people what they wanted. We didn’t give them what they wanted.”

James and the Lakers are scheduled to meet the Miami Heat in the first game of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night on ABC.

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