Kobe Bryant's death was tragic for a multitude of reasons, but its suddenness was among the most startling. Bryant was a healthy 41-year-old man seemingly enjoying a storybook retirement and second career in media before he was killed in a tragic accident that nobody could have seen coming. One day he was here. The next he was gone.
Grappling with that fact must be extraordinarily difficult for Bryant's successor as leader of the Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James. On Saturday, James passed Bryant for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. He did so in Philadelphia, Bryant's hometown, making the moment especially meaningful. In hindsight, though, what happened Saturday made Sunday all the more tragic. James and Bryant reportedly spoke on the phone Saturday after the Lakers game ended, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Several Lakers reportedly listened in on the call.
While the timing of the call itself is unclear, James spoke at length about Bryant's impact on the game and his career Saturday night.
"He gave me a pair of his shoes which I ended up wearing that following night. I was a 15 and he was a 14 and I wore them anyways." @KingJames talks about his relationship with @kobebryant coming full circle after passing him on the NBA's all-time scoring list. 🤝 #Lakers pic.twitter.com/n6p4nN5sQk— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 26, 2020
While Bryant and James never played together in the NBA, they were teammates on Team USA at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Further, they existed together in the tight community of NBA legends. Few players have experienced basketball stardom at their level. At the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, Bryant said of James that "when I leave, he'll be the elder statesman," symbolically passing him the torch as the NBA's most widely respected superstar.
The Lakers were flying back from Philadelphia when they found out about Bryant's death. They have not played a game since then, and their matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday has been postponed. The team needs time to grieve. The wound is still so fresh, especially to those involved in that last conversation.