The highlight reels of past NBA Finals are loaded with marquee matchups between the greatest players ever to step on a basketball court. Bill Russell versus Jerry West, Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan versus Charles Barkley are three notable examples.
One mouth-watering matchup that hasn’t happened — and, barring a miracle, won’t ever happen — is Kobe Bryant and LeBron James squaring off on the game’s biggest stage. And James blames himself for that.
“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain in 2009 for the fans, for us, to meet in the Finals,” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin on Tuesday. “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’ Cleveland Cavaliers were the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in 2009 Eastern Conference, and they lucked out by not having to play the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics, who had eliminated them in 2008 and 2010 en route to NBA Finals matchups with the Lakers. But the Cavs couldn’t advance past the Orlando Magic in the conference finals, losing in six games.
That 2009 squad probably was James’ best Cavs team before he re-joined the franchise last season and led it to the Finals.
“Obviously there was so much made about it, from commercials to media talk, to people just talking about the Lakers versus the Cavs, Kobe versus LeBron, Kobe versus LeBron, Kobe versus LeBron, but I couldn’t do that to my teammates to kind of assume,” James told ESPN. “That’s not my job. I’ve seen the stat that since ’07 either he has or I’ve been in the Finals, but we’ve never matched up. And that definitely sucks. Not only for us two being competitors, wanting to go against each other in the Finals, but also for the fans.”
Fans hoping for a Kobe-LeBron Finals this season shouldn’t hold their breath. Bryant, who will retire after the season, and his Los Angeles Lakers are 2-14 and headed for just their seventh lottery pick in 35 years. Meanwhile, James’ Cavs sit atop the Eastern Conference.
Instead, we might have to settle for annual June battles between James and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry. Most basketball fans would be OK with that, though.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
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