But it comes as no surprise that the Los Angeles Lakers great downplayed any competition with the fellow Hall-of-Fame talent — who’s six years younger and has three fewer championship rings.
“I never looked to see what he was doing as something to push me,” Bryant told reporters before his final game in Cleveland.
As for any perceived rivalry between two of the biggest stars in the game, Bryant simply doesn’t feel that there is one.
“I wouldn’t say he was a rival. … I just felt like we were completely different generations. I just missed that thing completely. Not like a Magic and Bird sort of thing. It was more like, from the time he came in the league it was more helping him, giving him direction, advice, ’cause I was just so much older by NBA years. So no, I’ve never had that.”
Bryant and James have been the two faces of the NBA for quite some time — ever since LeBron entered the league in the 2003-04 season. But the Black Mamba and King James have never faced each other with a title on the line.
So is it weird to Bryant that he’s never met James in the Finals?
“I wouldn’t say weird,” Bryant said. “It’s just, I don’t know if weird would be the term I’d use for it. Our teams, just, we never crossed paths unfortunately. I don’t want to say it was weird or anything like that. Just the ebb and flows of each season.”
Unfortunate is right. A Kobe vs. LeBron Finals is the kind of matchup that NBA fans dream of, but Bryant isn’t losing sleep over what could have been.
“It didn’t matter to me,” Bryant said of his NBA Finals opponents. “I just wanted to win the damn thing. I didn’t care who we played. For the fans, it probably stinks because it would have been a great matchup, but from a player’s perspective it doesn’t matter who you play. Just want to win the championship.”
And that he did, five of them.
But Bryant will never catch Michael Jordan’s six rings. And, for that matter, he’ll never catch LeBron’s MVP count, either (James has four, Kobe one). At the end of the day, the 37-year-old’s comments shouldn’t be seen as disrespectful in any way. Bryant simply never looked up to a younger player who ultimately had to change organizations to win it all.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.