LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was minutes before tipoff of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets. LeBron James was getting his last few warmup shots in.
He was all business. The laughs and smiles that he shares with teammates throughout portions of his warmup routine were long gone. James had reversed course and had the look of someone who was out for blood. All of a sudden, 6-foot-9 superstar noticed a familiar face who was observing from behind the basket, and James walked over.
“I’m going to end this s--- tonight,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Watch!”
The world watched an astonishing closeout performance with James pouring in game highs of 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 40 minutes in a 117-107 victory as the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
In a pivotal fourth quarter, James scored while defending young Nuggets star Jamal Murray. There are only a few superstars in NBA history capable of excelling at both tasks on such a stage. And with a heavy heart, James is unsettled that a particular meeting with one of those superstar players never took place.
When he announced he was signing with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, the late, great Kobe Bryant and James had plans to break bread and discuss the ins and outs of Los Angeles, the Lakers franchise and what would be expected of him upon his arrival, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Due to the conflicting and chaotic schedules of each superstar, the two could never establish a firm date. Each time they came across one another, the meeting was brought up, but it kept getting put on the backburner.
It’s something that still bothers James to this day.
“Of course, you think there’s going to be time for us to get together and I understand that there are regrets in life, but I definitely wish I had that moment with him,” James told Yahoo Sports. “I do remember when I decided to come here, he sent me a text right away and said, ‘Welcome, brother. Welcome to the family.’ That was a special moment because at the time, Laker faithful wasn’t [fully in on me]. A lot of people were saying, ‘Well, we might not want LeBron at this point in his career,’ and, ‘Is he right? Is he going to get us back [to the Finals]?’ So to hear from him and get his stamp of approval, it meant a lot. I don’t ever question myself, but when it’s coming from Kobe, it definitely meant a lot.”
At the time, they were arguably two of the busiest athletes in the world and free time wasn’t always available, even while they were residing in the same area. Said James: “We have to remember not to take life and people for granted,” and he expressed how it’s important to slow things down every now and then.
Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
James disclosed some of the questions and topics he had in mind that he never got a chance to discuss with Bryant.
“When I played in Cleveland, I grew up 35 minutes away from there, and so I kind of knew the people. When I went down to Miami, [Dwyane Wade] was able to give me the blueprint on that. But I never played for a historic franchise like the Lakers,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It’s probably like when [Alex Rodriguez] went to the Yankees. He probably heard from [Derek] Jeter on what it's going to take to play in front of this. It’s different from playing with the Mariners. It’s different from the Rangers. I would have definitely loved to get that side of what it takes, what does it take to win over Laker faithful or how can I make them appreciate my game. … That would have been something to pick his brain on.
“And then probably talk about us never meeting in the Finals. Just apologizing to him. In f---ing ’09 when I lost to Dwight [Howard], that would have been a great conversation for sure. You know, just to be like, we didn’t give the people what they wanted. We didn’t give them what they wanted.”
As he awaits the winner of the Miami Heat-Boston Celtics series that resumes Sunday night, James has the rare opportunity to be the first player in history to lead three different teams to NBA championships. Robert Horry and John Salley are the only two players to win a title on three different teams, but they were role players.
In what will be his 10th Finals appearance, James is hell-bent on capturing his fourth title and the Lakers’ 17th, which would tie the Boston Celtics for the most in NBA history.
“Winning a championship is hard, and to be able to bring three different fan bases to the promised land, that would be special,” James told Yahoo Sports. “Miami had done it once before I got there and obviously the Lakers have done it numerous times. But for the present time, just to have that joy, that joy of saying we’re world champions and doing it with three different franchises would be something that’s just flat-out historic. I know it’s going to be challenging as hell. It’s going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but man, I’m so up for it. I’m so up for it.”
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