LeBron James and Kobe Bryant never had a chance to go head-to-head in the NBA Finals for a duel of two generational stars, and James opened up with Cleveland media about the Black Mamba following his retirement announcement. LeBron was regretful they never met with a Larry O'Brien trophy in the balance, saying he, "Didn't hold up my end of the bargain to meet in the Finals in 2009," reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, dropping the series 4-2. Orlando went on to lose to Kobe and the Lakers in the Finals, the season ending with Bryant capturing his first championship since sweeping the New Jersey Nets in 2002.
Nike was all-in on the two meeting with everything on the line, pushing an ever-so-memorable advertising campaign featuring LeBron and Kobe puppets. Fans wanted to see the next great take on a living legend. Analysts and networks salivated at the idea of what that kind of series would mean for the sport. Alas, we never had a true Kobe and LeBron showdown, mostly relegated to forgetful regular season and Christmas Day games.
Here's more of what James had to say about Bryant, via McMenamin:
LeBron on Kobe: "Since ’07 either he has or I’ve been in the Finals but we’ve never matched up. And that definitely sucks"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 1, 2015
LeBron on Kobe: "He was someone where I always knew I had to be in the gym ... He was motivation throughout my career"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 1, 2015
LeBron James: "In high school I wore a nappy-ass afro because of Kobe Bryant ... I wanted to be just like him"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 1, 2015
And a super reel of all of the LeBron-Kobe Nike puppet ads for some additional nostalgia: