LeBron James and Kobe Bryant finally had their moment on the basketball court. The Christmas Day games and All-Star back-and-forths have mostly served as glorified filler in what's felt like a manufactured rivalry of two unquestionable greats. A genuine moment to remember between the two was born Thursday night. A decade of expectations have been sealed away in a genie lamp for a decade, but that magic was finally released into the air of Staples Center. Perhaps that's the journey the puppets set off on once their NBA Finals dream sailed off into the night.
Kobe Bryant dazzled with footwork and impossible shots. LeBron James flew through the air to rock the rim and asserted his physical dominance. The crowd roared behind every moment, and by the end of it, all that was left was to give a standing ovation to a legend while his name reverberated through the building.
"Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!"
Staples Center gives Kobe Bryant a standing ovation last night pic.twitter.com/MY0LlH1lrP— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) March 11, 2016
But how we got to that point is what made this night special. Two of the game's greats played great in their final battle. Kobe set the tone immediately, draining back-to-back jumpers. They were the kind of jumpers he's made a career out of, creating space from his defender to throw a bullseye:
Classic Kobe, who seemed to have some extra snap to his movements. He was crisp right out of the gates, which was the first sign it was going to be a night to remember. It didn't take LeBron long to show some signs of life either, as just a few a possessions later he cut into the heart of the Lakers' defense and glided through the air for a breezy jumper. A man this size shouldn't be this agile:
It was a quick post up of Kobe on LeBron in transition, though, that opened the door for a duel to remember:
How does Kobe follow that up? With more of the footwork and post moves that set him apart through the second half of his career. Bryant gets James with a patented pump fake for an easy lay in, and the crowd burst as if he just hit a clutch bucket in an NBA Finals game. Listen with sound for full appreciation of this one:
That one move alone was worth the price of admission. Luckily we're still in the first quarter, and they were just starting to paint their masterpice. It was time for LeBron to splash the canvas with a brush stroke of his own, coming in the form of an off-the-backboard alley-oop that he somehow finished with his left hand:
That angle doesn't do it justice, but don't worry, this one does:
To which Kobe said, ANOTHER ONE, in the next possession for the Lakers:
And ANOTHER ONE:
The exchange of buckets only heats up from here, with LeBron returning to the other hand to drop this hammer down after driving around Kobe without any contention at the rim:
And the reaction on the other end:
Kobe immediately called for the ball on the other end, jab stepped his way into space, then splashed a three in LeBron's grill:
And that's just the first half.
Halftime didn't cool off Kobe at all, and he comes out firing. He backs LeBron down almost effortlessly in transition, backing his way all the down to the low post from the three-point line before sinking his fangs into James once again:
A blow-by dunk after an offensive rebound for the Cavaliers was a proper response from LeBron:
Kobe was still locked into full Mamba mode, though. The assassin struck again just a few possessions later -- good thanks to cheetah tails for teaching him how to raise up and balance himself on shots like this:
That'd be it from Kobe for awhile, who could only watch from the bench while LeBron terrorized the rest of his team. D'Angelo Russell's track record with James isn't looking too hot:
Alas, all good things must come to an end, but not before one last shot from Kobe. The story ends with a Lakers loss, but Kobe dropping the final bucket while they shared the court:
And the last laugh on the other end:
The glitz and glamour of two leviathans facing off with a championship in the balance was nowhere to be found. All that was left was a single moment -- a final chance -- for two of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball to give the fans something to remember. Perhaps more importantly, to pay their respects to each other.
The hype around the game was just background noise to the main event. A Thursday night of regular season basketball, of all things, served as the biggest and best stage for LeBron and Kobe to finally share something real together.
All that's left is one selfish thought: Does this really have to end?