But with the arrival of LeBron James to Los Angeles, Ice Cube is confused why some Kobe stans haven't welcomed James with open arms.
"Kobe ain't playing, but even if Kobe was on the team, I'd be happy," Ice Cube, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the BIG3, told Bleacher Report. "Who wouldn't be happy with a player like LeBron? Even diehard Kobe fans, it's silly to not be happy that we have another great player on the Lakers that can probably win us a championship."
Ice Cube admits he was "a big-time Kobe-over-LeBron fan. But now that we got LeBron, I'm a big-time LeBron fan because he's on our team. He's not against us no more. He's with us. I think we just need to act like it."
But there are Kobe stans who are reluctant to accept the best player in the game. That's become evident since The King decided to take his talents to Southern California earlier this month. Even though Kobe retired two years ago, his aggressive cult following hasn't forgotten about the days when LeBron and Kobe fans argued about who was the best player in the world.
"With Kobe stans, there's a level of disrespect they get in a general setting," says Juanita Anderson, a Southern California native whose Twitter handle is @intrepid_heroin. "Like, he never shot over 47 percent, so they'll just disrespect everything he's done in his career. I wouldn't consider myself a Kobe stan, but there are certain situations where I'll be like, ‘Now wait, hold up. You gotta respect the man.' For Kobe stans, that's, like, all the time. No matter what, they've got this fake rivalry in their heads that he has with LeBron, which I'll never understand."
Even Nike got in on this rivalry in 2009 with its successful MVPuppets commercials. Unfortunately, Kobe and LeBron never faced each other in the NBA Finals, but Kobe stans took pride in knowing their king won five NBA titles before LeBron finally secured his first in 2012. As James appeared in eight straight NBA Finals while Bryant exited his prime and eventually retired, Kobe stans have made it their duty to preserve his legacy by caping for him at all times.
"No one has ever made me feel the way I feel about basketball the way that Kobe has," says Bree Stephen, a Southern California native whose Twitter handle is @breeashhh. "A lot of my memories deal with Kobe."
Stephen said Kobe stans like herself "don't accept anything less than greatness, especially if you show that you're not giving 100 percent. If you don't want to be here, we don't want you here. That's the mentality I come from, like the Mamba mentality. You give it your all, or you don't at all."
While Stephen is a Kobe stan who is excited to root for James, she's not looking forward to dealing with LeBron stans, who she calls the "3-6 mafia" in reference to James' Finals record. "I've been dealing with Kobe stans like myself for 20 years, so they're not the problem," Stephen says. "For me, it's going to be those weird-ass n----s coming from God knows where trying to tell us who we should get rid of, how LeBron needs more help. Shut the f--k up. I swear to God, I don't need no input because I think they're all stupid. I haven't met one LeBron fan with sense."
She feels LeBron stans always move the goalposts when defending his greatness. Unlike Kobe stans, she feels they rarely take accountability when LeBron comes up short in the playoffs.
"LeBron deserves better fans," she continues. "This is the King. The best player in the world right now, and he deserves better than y'all."
This hostile energy on both sides manifested itself on the streets of Southern California when Kobe stans vandalized a LeBron mural in Venice that read "The King of LA." Jonas Never, a Lakers fan who created the art installation and also made a mural honoring Bryant's retirement in 2016, wanted to capture the city's energy with the mural and play off James' nickname. He initially wanted to write "King" and "LABron" on the mural, but there wasn't enough room for LABron. He kept "King" and used the "LA" team logo. However, there was still some empty space.
As a crowd gathered, a spectator suggested that Never incorporate the word "of" so that it read "King of LA." He liked the suggestion and didn't think much of it thereafter. Never and his team were eating lunch when the mural was posted on social media. He quickly realized how sensitive Kobe stans were of that phrasing.
"We could've done something cheesy, like, ‘Welcome to LA, LeBron,' and done it like a postcard. But I didn't really want that," Never says. "I've lived here my whole life, and watching how the Lakers fell apart during Kobe's last years and having no excitement with the team except for when LaVar Ball would say something stupid, I was happy that the Laker energy was changing. I just can't really imagine Juventus fans talking s--t about getting Ronaldo. The fact that a franchise that has been mediocre is upset about getting the best player in the game right now, you might not be happy about the wording, but you should be happy about the situation."
The experience has changed the way Never views Lakers fans and Kobe stans.
"I thought being a Laker fan was bigger than being a Kobe fan, and I was 100 percent wrong," Never says. "I did not see that coming at all. People are still upset LeBron is here. People don't want LeBron. It's not everyone, but there's a good portion that doesn't want him on the team tarnishing Kobe's legacy. I keep reading people say, ‘Oh, he's just here to get into movies. He's just here to hang out with celebrities.' And they might be right, but he's still way more helpful than most of the [free agents] out there."
Ice Cube didn't like the thought of a James mural installed so quickly, nor was he a fan of using "King of LA," but he hated that fans had the audacity to damage the artwork.
"I'd wait until he wins something to be putting murals up," Ice Cube says. "But the fact that it was already up and somebody came and vandalized the art, that's bulls--t. I'm never going to be down with that. That's a punk move, like somebody scratching your car."
It showed just how far Kobe stans will go to display their loyalty, but what will it take for them to embrace James? The obvious answer is winning, but the 33-year-old James will join a very competitive Western Conference led by the Golden State Warriors, who added All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins after winning back-to-back titles.
Ice Cube believes when a superstar wins a championship in Los Angeles, "You're pretty much a Laker for life. Other Lakers can't take your legacy." One title would be an accomplishment for James and his stans, who will quickly proclaim him as the greatest Laker of all time.
But it will take more than that to flip some Kobe stans.
"There's always people that will say, ‘Well, did he win five? Did he win six?" Stephen says. "One would not be enough to embrace LeBron if you're talking about Kobe stans. But it'll be like, ‘Ay, thanks, bro. Let's get another one.'
"I think those fans are so hellbent on Kobe that they will never change their minds," Never says. "Let's face it, this year's team isn't as good as the Warriors. It's going to take, at least in my mind, a Paul George or a Kawhi Leonard to get on that level and hope that the Warriors blow up.
"Maybe he'll prove me wrong, but I don't think he'll have enough time in his career to change those Kobe fans."