LeBron James Comments on Kobe Bryant's Final Season, Matchup vs. Lakers

Mike NorrisFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game on January 15, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Count LeBron James as a Kobe Bryant fan.

As teams around the NBA honor the Los Angeles Lakers great during his farewell tour, even a four-time MVP such as James can be in awe of what the third-leading scorer in NBA history has done for the game, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

Anytime I even watch his games, even when I'm not playing him, it's always, like, very emotional just knowing it's his last hurrah. And he's done so much, not only for the Lakers organization, but for me as a kid growing up watching Kobe and things of that nature and also competing against him.

So it's going to be really cool to see him on Wednesday for sure, and hopefully -- I know our fans -- they're going to give him a great reception, well-deserved.

James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will host Bryant and the Lakers on Wednesday for the first of three matchups this season. Unless the 11-43 Lakers pull off the greatest turnaround in NBA history, they will be the final three meetings between the two greats.

The Cavaliers will honor Bryant with a special pregame video. James, who never got to face Bryant in the NBA Finals, shared his favorite memory of the 18-time All-Star, per McMenamin:

I think my most fond moment is he gave me his shoes when I was in high school. I think I was playing in a tournament in Teaneck, New Jersey, and they were playing in the [2002] All-Star game in Philly. And I had an opportunity to go meet him, and he gave me a pair of his shoes, and I actually wore them in a game against Oak Hill, against Melo [Carmelo Anthony], actually. So, six degrees of separation right there.

While fans label many of today's superstars as the "next Kobe" (just as they labeled Bryant as the "next Jordan"), James hasn't heard that as much because he has been a power forward for most of his career, while Bryant is a shooting guard.

Bryant laughed about the fact that some of the younger players in the NBA aren't old enough to remember his entire career, per Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

However, there is no denying James' career numbers, and the impact he has on the game will be similar to Bryant's by the time his playing days are over.

Bryant, who at 16.9 points per game is scoring 8.2 fewer than his career average, has been hot lately, averaging 27.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in four February contests.

James is glad to see Bryant playing well but wants him to cool off, per McMenamin.

"I mean, I watch all the games, but I definitely watch when he's on and I'm not playing," James said. "He's been in a great rhythm. I hope he gets back to a not-so-good rhythm by Wednesday. But it's fun. It's definitely great to see him out there having fun and doing what he loves to do."

While James was open about his respect for Bryant, he gave a guarded answer when asked how their relationship has changed since he first entered the league out of high school, per McMenamin. "I don't want to answer that," James said. "I don't want to answer that."

The matchup loses some luster with the Lakers' poor record, but hopefully NBA fans realize Wednesday's matchup is one of the few remaining that will feature two of the game's greatest players from the past two decades.

If the basketball gods are in a good mood, we'll see a close game with the ball in the hands of one of the two superstars in the final seconds.