When the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James, former star Kobe Bryant wasn’t shy about expressing his excitement for the move. As he revealed during an appearance on Fox Sports Radio’s “Gottlieb and Smith,” he was just glad he didn’t have to keep quiet about it anymore.
And while Bryant had spoken with James before his commitment to the Lakers became public, he said he wasn’t exactly making a hard sell to recruit him, because he was confident he didn’t need to.
“It was just ‘Hey, welcome to the family bro,’” Bryant said he told James. “[I was] just making sure we get together when he gets out here, making sure his kids were good and that whole bit.”
That level of collegiality for someone many held up as one of Bryant’s rivals might be a surprise to some, but Bryant said he and James have been friendly for quite some time.
“There’s always been that brotherhood that goes back to our first time playing together in the Olympics,” Bryant said. “For him now to be a part of this Lakers family, it’s big man. Once you put on that golden armor you become a part of that culture, a part of the history and I couldn’t be more excited for the city and for Rob, Magic and Jeanie.”
So as much of a surprise as it might seem to some that theorized that Bryant would feel threatened by James coming to Los Angeles and passing Bryant’s all-time scoring records in a Lakers jersey, Bryant is secure in his legacy and sounds genuinely pleased to see James join him amidst the pantheon of Lakers greats.
“I love it. Here’s the thing: The NBA does better when the Lakers are at their highest potential, and for the city of L.A. it’s important for us to have that star power,” Bryant said. “We got LeBron here now, it’s his turn now. He’ll take this franchise back to prominence.
“I’m excited. I bleed purple and gold, since I was like three years old. It cuts real deep with me man.”
Bryant also thinks it’s won’t be long before James has the Lakers back in title contention.
“We’ll get back to that level,” Bryant dismissing the idea that James’ tenure with the Lakers would be a failure without a championship, because he knows one is coming.
“He is family now, and as a Laker we will get back to that level,” Bryant said. “I remember Magic said it when Shaq and I came aboard, and his unyielding support for us was something we relied on heavily. We’re all going to rally around LeBron and support him just the same. We’ll get this done.”
And from making Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal feel welcome and supported enough to rip off three titles together to the way he brought James to Los Angeles, Bryant said during an appearance on ESPN LA that he thinks Magic Johnson deserves another statue:
Kobe to @stephenasmith on Magic: 'They might have to get this dude another statue [for all he has done]. What Magic is pulling off is absolutely incredible. The legacy he has for this franchise and what he's doing [now], it's ridiculous.'— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 2, 2018
The other thing Johnson has done is help assemble a talented young core of players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma to play around LeBron. Those guys are excited for the opportunity, but it will also be their greatest NBA test.
Bryant thinks they’re ready for it.
“I think the wonderful thing about this is it really does speed up the development of the younger players. They’ve been growing so much,” Bryant said on “Gottlieb and Smith.” “And you know pressure makes diamonds, so in this situation you’ll see Lonzo step up, you’ll see Kuzma step up, you’ll see the young guys step up to that challenge and reach their potential a lot faster than they normally would.”
When Bryant echoed that sentiment on ESPN LA, Kuzma said the team is prepared.
Bryant is also confident in his former agent and now-Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka can make more moves and continue to help the team round out into championship form:
Kobe to @stephenasmith on Rob Pelinka and what's next: 'I have known Rob forever. He has [prepared Plan A-Z.] He will read the lay of the land and see what opportunities present themselves. There will be nothing that surprises him... I know how brilliant he is.'— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 2, 2018
And that faith that the Lakers have the right team to carry them to greatness, coupled with the desire for them to succeed is why Bryant is happy to see James in Los Angeles. He knew as a Laker it was only a matter of time before the next great in a long line of them came along to carry the franchise forward, and he wants to do whatever he can to help:
On taking Lakers torch from Magic and passing it to LeBron, Kobe to @stephenasmith: 'Now it is somebody else's time... certainly it is our responsibility to pay it forward. whatever i can do to help Bron [win a championship in LA] I am all for it... we are all brothers.'— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 2, 2018
Kobe to @stephenasmith on LeBron having the type of skin and character to handle playing in LA: 'They've thrown everything at this kid since [high school]." Says he told LeBron he's here for him and his family and whatever they need in LA— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 2, 2018
He knows that helping James take his mantle is his role as a Lakers great, because that’s just what this team’s hall-of-famers do.
Kobe to @stephenasmith: 'I had a great run... we are fortunate enough to win five championships. Now it I somebody else’s time... it is our responsibility to pay that forward. Anything I can do whatsoever to help LeBron bring a championship back to the city of LA I am all for it'— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) July 2, 2018
After all, Bryant knows he doesn’t need to be threatened. After one of the biggest weekends in Lakers history, he and James are on the same side.
“He’s in the golden armor now, man. That’s family now,” Bryant said.