Now 35, and seven years James' senior, the Black Mamba isn't the best player in the NBA. Following his latest brush with mortality, there's no telling if he'll remain in the top 10 upon his return.
But the NBA's rookies don't care.
Players were asked to fill out an NBA.com survey at the league's annual Rookie Photo Shoot. When asked who their favorite player in the NBA was right now, Bryant finished in first place with 21.2 percent of the votes while James came in second with 15.2.
Boom shakalaka—or something like that.
Almost two decades later, Bryant is still appealing to the younger generation, speaking to his transcendency as a basketball persona—which is nothing short of incredible.
On one hand, however, this might be expected. Incoming rookies grew up watching Bryant. For those who began to take interest before the age of 10, he was their Michael Jordan.
James can be looped into the same category, though. Ten years deep into his career, it's easy to forget that some of the younger guys grew up idolizing him as well. He was their Jordan.
It was only last year that James topped the same list. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the Association's novices named him as their favorite player; 18.2 percent chose Bryant. There's clearly more at play here than childhood heroes.
Perhaps the rookies were inspired by the season Bryant just had or maybe this year's crop of neophytes are already conspiring against the Miami Heat. Nothing is bound to ruin James' day like coming in second, after all. Anyone familiar with his reaction to finishing behind Marc Gasol in the Defensive Player of the Year voting knows that.
“It sucks,” he said of the DPOY slight, as quoted by the Palm Beach Post's Ethan J. Skolnick. “It sucks. It sucks.”
For James, this might suck, too. But for an aging Bryant, it's awesome. He's 35 and still kicking (James' behind).