While they were once rivals on the court and have fervent fanbases that often argue the merits of their respective greatnesses against one another, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant share a mutual respect that was on display Sunday during and after the Los Angeles Lakers' 122-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Bryant attended the game with his daughter, Gigi, and James spoke glowingly of the pair after a 33-point, 12-assist, seven-rebound outing.
"That's one of the greatest players to ever play this game, taking time out of his day on a Sunday," James told reporters. "So I'm just trying to put on a show for him and give him a reason, like, 'OK, we might come to another game.'"
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Lakers’ LeBron James on Kobe Bryant: “I grew up watching him, admiring him. I was one of the kids who came from high school. He did it. It’s so surreal for me as a kid from Akron to have a guy like Kobe take time out of his day. Even at this point of my career it’s still special” https://t.co/rN95aoLY0k
James' performance helped lift the Lakers to an NBA-best 11-2 record. The 34-year-old has been playing MVP-caliber basketball, averaging 25.0 points, an NBA-high 11.2 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game while locking in on defense the way he hasn't in recent regular seasons.
"Just having him in the building and knowing what he meant to this franchise and L.A. for me and my teammates, what it means to be a part of this Laker Nation and Laker family, it's a beautiful thing. And for me, I grew up watching, admiring. I was one of the kids, obviously, who had a chance to come out straight out of high school, so he did it, and I was just watching him.
"It's just dope. It's just so surreal for me, just a kid from Akron, to be able to have a guy like Kobe just take time out of his day. Even at this point in my career, it's still special."
James was also complimentary of the next basketball star in the Bryant family—Gigi is considered one of the best youth basketball players in the country.
"He's got one of the greatest female players that's about to come up sitting next to him in Gigi," James said of the 13-year-old.