Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have never squared off against one another in a meaningful game. Their eras of dominance overlapped in the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, but the timing was never quite right and what could have been one of the greatest individual rivalries in NBA history would only live on in hypothetical scenarios. Tonight, the two will step into the arena for one final battle that, like their entire head-to-head history, is more about the exhibition than the outcome.
Above: LeBron and Kobe’s first-ever regular season meeting
Kobe and LeBron have a lot in common, but they’re polar opposites of one another. While both emerged straight from High School, Kobe was passed up for most of the lottery (much due to the strength of that 1996 draft class). LeBron on the other hand, was highly touted as the future of the NBA when he was just a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary. From the get-go, the frail-framed Kobe didn’t get much playing time and when he did, the spotlight seemed a bit too bright and hot. LeBron embraced stardom from the get-go and on his NBA debut, embarrassed an above-average veteran defender in Doug Christie.
The first-ever match-up between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was far from a heavyweight bout. The Lakers were one of the best teams in the league and the Cavs were a rebuilding franchise. Kobe saw limited minutes due to a shoulder injury, while LeBron had one of the less productive games of his young career. That would be the only time the two would meet that season; little did we know that this underwhelming outcome would be reflective of their entire head-to-head history.