LeBron James was arguably the most hyped-up draft prospect of all time entering the 2003 NBA draft.
After being selected No. 1 by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, James was expected to take the league by storm and instantly reverse the Cavs’ fortunes.
This allegedly didn’t sit too well with LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, though, who was a 24-year-old superstar coming off a career year at the time. As a result, Bryant reportedly did his best to steal James’ spotlight on draft night.
According to Bryant’s coach at the time, Phil Jackson, during the 2003 draft, the Lakers superstar intentionally leaked news surrounding his future in LA.
This came as a report came out during the broadcast that Bryant planned to opt out of his contract and enter free agency the following season:
“I just remember LeBron’s draft day,” Jackson said.
“Kobe had something that went on there, didn’t he? He kind of overplayed it. He took the headlines away from LeBron, in a way.”
Jackson added that Bryant viewed James as one of his primary adversaries as soon as he came into the league:
“I think he had him in his sights right off the bat,” Jackson said.
Bryant and James proved to be the league’s two biggest stars during the rest of the 2000s and early 2010s. However, unfortunately for NBA fans, the two superstars never ended up facing off in the playoffs before Bryant retired in 2016.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James developed a mutual respect
While Kobe Bryant may have initially felt threatened by LeBron James, the two superstars ended up developing mutual respect.
During a 2009 interview, James and Bryant touched on the immense respect that they had for each other’s games:
“There’s a mutual respect that we have for one another,” Bryant said.
“It’s that level of respect that enables us to perform at a high level when we compete against each other.”
“It automatically makes you better,” James added.
Bryant also spoke about how he was often in awe of James’ freakish athleticism:
“We both have that same passion, he just shows it in different ways,” Bryant said.
“He takes off like he’s jumping off a trampoline off one leg. It’s the most ridiculous one-legged takeoff I’ve seen. It’s crazy.”
Reverting back with the same admiration, James raved about Bryant’s offensive repertoire, particularly his elite midrange shooting ability:
“Two dribbles, pump fake, reverse spin, shot. Yeah, I watch it. Yeah, I study it.” James said.
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