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Mar 11, 2016
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Today marked the last time Kobe Bryant and LeBron James faced each other in an NBA game.

The Cleveland Cavaliers may have beaten the Los Angeles Lakers, 120-108, but the farewell matchup between two of the greatest players to ever set foot on a basketball court didn't disappoint.

For the last time, Kobe put the moves on his worthy competitor, while LeBron didn't let up one bit against the senior statesman. James had his usual 24 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, while Bryant turned back the clock with a 26-point outing on 11-of-16 shooting.

Truly, for every Bill Russel vs. Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson throwback video, there is a Kobe vs. LeBron highlight reel. And as much as the two's respective fanbases loathe each other, James and Bryant have developed an intense admiration for one another.

Such is their intent to compete against each other at the highest level that LeBron still bears the regret of not being able to "hold up my end of the bargain in 2009 for the fans, for us, to meet in the Finals."

He was referring to his first stint with the Cavaliers, where, in the 2008-09 season, his team had the league-leading 66-16 record, with Kobe's Lakers breathing down their necks at 65-17. Cleveland was shocked by a Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, which Los Angeles ultimately defeated in the championship round for Bryant's fourth ring.

"I know the world wanted to see it. I wanted it, we wanted it. He held up his end and I didn't hold up my end, and I hate that. I hate that that didn't happen," James said recently.

Thankfully, we were granted with countless regular season, All-Star Game, and even Team USA head-to-head meetings between the two future Hall-of-Famers. Here are just some of the most memorable times LeBron and Kobe shared the floor:


January 12, 2004

James was in the midst of his rookie season as a heavily scrutinized 19-year-old who was expected to turn around a franchise before he was even drafted. Bryant, meanwhile, was facing his own demons, on (teammate Shaquille O'Neal) and off (sexual assault case) the court.

Neither looked the must-see TV part they were touted to be. If anything, their respective statlines were rather underwhelming: LeBron ended up with 16 points, five rebounds, his seven assists offset by his six turnovers; while Kobe's night was cut short by an injury but his 10 points (3 of 8 shooting) matched the Lakers lead in the 89-79 win.

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January 12, 2006

Two years and two more forgettable meetings between their teams (with Bryant injured in one) later, their fourth face-off proved to be quite the spectacle—one that would define how much of a performer in the clutch each other is.

With the game tied, 97-all, Kobe shook off and buried a jumper over LeBron with 8.6 seconds remaining. Ensuing misses by James—his second free throw that could've tied the game and a shot at the buzzer while being guarded by Bryant—didn't help his endgame reputation.


Team USA Blue vs. White scrimmage, 2007

The Kobe-LeBron duels didn't end in NBA games. In 2007, the two brought their fierce rivalry to a Team USA scrimmage, which pitted 17 of the league's best American players against each other for the 12 Olympic roster spots. Bryant came through for the Blue team (105-104) and finished with 26 points—seven of which came in the last two minutes of the game—including the game-winner over Tayshaun Prince with 6.6 seconds left.

James had 18 points, highlighted by a block on Kobe's reverse dunk attempt. The latter had the last laugh though, as he forced LeBron into a miss at the buzzer.

January 27, 2008

This was the year Bryant and James came closest to a playoff encounter. Coming from different conferences, the only way for them to have a go at each other in the postseason is to make it to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, the newly minted Big Three of the Boston Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen) played spoilers, turning away the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, then defeating the Lakers for its first championship since 1986.

Nonetheless, the year saw the best the LeBron-Kobe rivalry had to offer.

The King piled up 41 points (14 in the fourth), none more important than the two over Bryant with 20.1 seconds remaining to seal the victory, 98-95. The Black Mamba had nine of his team-high 33 points during the final quarter, but also committed a couple of costly mistakes down the stretch.


January 27, 2013

By this time, the tables have already turned. LeBron, coming off a third Most Valuable Player award and a well-deserved first ring with the Miami Heat, was at the peak of his powers. Kobe, meanwhile, had Father Time slowly creeping up on him, all while carrying an underachieving Lakers team (which had Dwight Howard and Steve Nash at that time) on his back.

A 28-year-old James posted a cool 39 points (on 25 shots), eight assists, and seven rebounds, en route to a 99-90 Miami win. Bryant, at 34, managed just 22 markers on the same number of attempts.

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2013 NBA All-Star Game

During a span where James clearly had the upper hand, Bryant was able to get the better of him—at least in the waning moments of the exhibition match. Despite being outscored, 19-9, Kobe, blocked LeBron twice in a two-minute span to secure a West victory, 143-138.

 

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