When the NBA’s All-Star weekend was over, after three days in which the league found ways to honor Kobe Bryant—including naming the All-Star MVP trophy, won by Bryant four times, after him—Lakers star LeBron James was asked for his fondest memory of Bryant.
For that, he went back more than a decade to the 2008 Olympics in China, the first time James and Bryant were teammates on any team. That version of Team USA won a gold medal, avenging the Americans’ embarrassing third-place finish in the 2004 Olympics.
“Just being part of the Redeem Team in 2008,” James said. “We have so many off-the-court memories from that team. Either if it was just about basketball or going into some Team USA other events.
“We were able to see Michael Phelps swim. We were able to see the women’s national team play a lot of their games. We were able to go around track and field. We did a lot of things besides play basketball throughout that whole Redeem Team run that we had when we brought home gold. So, a lot of memories for sure.”
In 2005, James, Bryant and Carmelo Anthony were among the first players to agree to rejoin USA Basketball for the 08 Olympics. Bryant played again in the London Olympics in 2012.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski told Yahoo! Sports in 2018 that Bryant and James bonded during those Olympics as teammates:
“They developed a great relationship. 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.”
James Honors Bryant’s Impact Beyond Basketball
Bryant died on January 26 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., while taking his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, to a basketball tournament. Gianna and seven others (John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan) perished along with Bryant. Investigators have yet to release a definitive cause of the accident.
The previous day, James had passed Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, which he did against the Sixers in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia. The two talked by phone that night, a conversation that is in itself a bittersweet memory for James.
“He’s one of the greatest basketball players, one of the most impactful players, and the inspiration that he has, it’s showing,” James said. “How many people not only in the basketball world, but also outside the basketball world, that was touched by a person such as himself.
“Obviously, we all saw what he was able to do on the floor as a competitor, as a champion, someone who strived for excellence every single day, but we also saw the father he was as well to his beautiful daughters and to his wife.”
LeBron James: Kobe Bryant’s Death Now, ‘Part of Me’
James has been front-and-center in the response to the death of Bryant, both for the Lakers and for the league in general. In the Lakers’ first game back on the floor after Bryant’s death, it was James who went to center court and spoke to the crowd before the game started, offering his own heartfelt tribute. He said he is proud to carry that mantle.
He also got a Black Mamba tattoo on his thigh, honoring Bryant through his nickname. James said, as a Laker, he was happy to see the league honor Bryant in Chicago.
“I think it’s been amazing,” James said, “and I’m happy to be a part of it this weekend. Obviously, me being a Los Angeles Laker myself, it’s going to be a part of me for the rest of my life and our franchise, and any player to ever wear purple and gold until the end of basketball, which is never.”