LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer is something that (obviously) is regarded almost universally as a positive by fans of the franchise. The only hiccup in the whole thing has been the perception — that people have varying opinions over whether is reality or not — that some die-hard Kobe Bryant fans aren’t happy to see James don the purple and gold.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has said that’s stupid, and so has Kobe, and while we’ll probably never know for sure whether LeBron fans and Kobe fans can coexist, as long as it’s being discussed, it’s worth looking back at the time the two players themselves learned to work together.
“But Harrison, that’s impossible, they never played on the same team!”, I can hear you saying, but I’m here to say “Wrong,” because Bryant and James did team up to help turn around Team USA to the tune of two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, even if they both utilized different leadership styles while doing so (via Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports):
“Even though Coach K made Jason Kidd the captain, LeBron was pretty much a captain as well,” says Prince. “Because whether it was trying to do a breakfast in the morning or go work out at the gym before practice or any of that stuff, LeBron was the guy who was calling everybody and saying, ‘Hey, I’m doing this, man, if we all want to get our chemistry together and try to get this thing rolling the right way.’ He was the guy setting things up so everybody could be together. For him to be doing that at his age at that time, it was impressive.”
Kobe took a different tact. “His mentorship was going out, playing hard all the time, putting in the work, and letting you see it,” says Prince.
Bryant and James’ (possibly unintentional) good cop, bad cop dynamic worked, and it wasn’t the only way the two helped keep the team together. According to those with the team, Bryant inspired James to work harder, while later being willing to hand over the reins when it was clear it was James’ turn to lead (again via Rohrbach):
A chemistry explosion could have sent Team USA home early. But the two all-time greats vying for supremacy found common ground.
“It started with those two,” says Bosh, “and just the competitive spirit with Kobe being so serious, ‘Bron starts being serious, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, OK, damn, I’ve gotta get serious.’”
“They developed a great relationship,” says Krzyzewski. “They both did things to make it easy for their teammates to see and for me to see that they were going to get along and do what was necessary to help win the gold. In 2012, Kobe was not at the end of his career, but in the latter stages of his career, and LeBron had taken the spotlight of being probably the best player. Again, that relationship that was formed in 2008 continued. They both knew. That’s the sign of a great, special player, where you can use your talents along with another guy, and the two of them really played as one, and as a result we won two gold medals.”
Rohrbach’s entire history of “The Redeem Team” is worth reading, but Bryant and James’ partnership is particularly relevant as questions of whether Bryant and James’ fans can ever coexist keep coming up. That debate very well may be a straw man, but if it is real, then those fans would be wise to take note that their disdain for each other doesn’t seem to be shared by the men they’re supporting.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.