With Kobe Bryant announcing on Sunday that he plans to retire after the season, many NBA players have spoken out praising both the talent and competitiveness that has come to define Bryant over the years.
One such player was LeBron James, who spoke at length about Bryant, citing numerous stats and individual moments from Bryant's illustrious career.
Either James or Bryant has appeared in every NBA Finals since 2007, and James even jokingly apologized for not holding up his end of the bargain in 2009, when the Cavs won a franchise-high 66 games but failed to reach the Finals, where they would have met Bryant and the Lakers.
But of the many anecdotes James shared about Bryant, one in particular best illustrates Bryant's competitive spirit.
At the 2008 Olympics, Team USA played rival Spain in a preliminary group game, and just a few possessions into the game, Bryant ran straight through his Lakers teammate Pau Gasol on a pick, sending the 7-foot Spaniard to the ground and earning Bryant a flagrant.
Here's how James remembered it, via Cleveland.com:
%shareLinks-quote="The first play of the game he ran through the chest of Pau Gasol and got a flagrant. And Pau Gasol was his teammate with the Lakers. I was like, 'Yeah, this guy is on another level.' "I loved it. I mean, [Gasol] wasn't my teammate, but I was like, 'This guy's all about winning and whoever he's playing for or who he's playing with at that point in time. He really forgot Pau was his teammate. Like he really forgot that he was about to see him in like three weeks in L.A. I swear. It was crazy." type="quote" author="LeBron James" authordesc="" isquoteoftheday="false"%
Here's the play:
James also recalled another play from the same Olympics, also against Spain but in the Gold Medal game. The teams were trading baskets down the stretch when Bryant completely took over. He scored 20 points in total, but it was a key four-point play that effectively sealed the Gold for the U.S.
Here's James on the game:
%shareLinks-quote="I would say our Gold Medal game in '08 against Spain was probably one of the most memorable games I've ever played with him ... That was a really tough game for our team. It was our Redeem Team and late in the game it was a very close game. Rudy Ferandez had just come down and made a really big bucket. They went zone on us and we needed to make a big bucket. We swung it around the horn, Kobe caught it on the left wing and shot a three with no thought about it. Got fouled, four-point play and we put the game away from that point on. That was pretty cool." type="quote" author="LeBron James" authordesc="" isquoteoftheday="false"%
Here's footage from that play, too:
Doug Collins summed it up perfectly on the television broadcast immediately after he hit the shot: "Is there anybody in the NBA who loves these moments more than Kobe Bryant?"