LeBron James On Passing Kobe Bryant For Third On All-Time Scorers List: 'It's just too much'
LeBron James sat in front of his locker and spent four uninterrupted minutes gushing about Kobe Bryant.
He had just passed Bryant for third place on the NBA's all-time scorers list with his 33,644th point after making a driving layup with 7 minutes and 22 seconds left in the third quarter of Saturday's 108-91 loss to Philadelphia.
This accomplishment meant something to him.
"It's just too much, it's just too much," James told reporters, calling this experience surreal.
James, a three-time NBA champion, four-time MVP and 16-time All-Star, was earnestly taken aback by what he had just done -- and outlined in detail the different moments throughout his life that Bryant inspired him.
There was the time when James was in Trenton, New Jersey, for a high school basketball tournament and he and his teammate Maverick Carter drove to downtown, Philadelphia, to meet Bryant. The Lakers' superstar, who was in Philadelphia for the 2001 All-Star game, gifted James a pair of his red, white and blue shoes.
"I was a [size] 15 and he was a 14, and I wore them anyways," James said.
Or the time when James attended the Academic Betterment and Career Development camp as a 15-year-old, and Bryant was a speaker and said something that deeply resonated with him.
"I was just trying to soak up everything that I could," James said. "I remember one thing that he said, he was like, 'If you want to try to be great at it, or if you want to be one of the greats, you've got to put the work in. There's no substitution to work.' "
When James hit the milestone on Saturday en route to finishing with 29 points, he received high fives from his teammates and a standing ovation from the crowd in Philadelphia, where Bryant was born.
Bryant even tweeted a congratulatory message, writing, "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames Much respect my brother #33644."
But the moment was truly put into perspective when James, who wore sneakers inscribed with the words "Mamba 4 life 8/24 KB," acknowledged in front of a locker room filled with reporters how dizzying this experience was for him.
"I'm here in a Lakers uniform in Philadelphia, where he's from, where one of the first times I ever met him he gave me his shoes that he wore to All-Star weekend," James said. "It's surreal. It doesn't make no sense. But the universe just puts things in your life, and when you're living the right way, and you're giving everything to whatever you're doing, things happen organically. It's not supposed to make sense. But it just happens."
After James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, he gained an even greater appreciation for Bryant and his unparalleled work ethic.
Bryant went from being a rookie who averaged 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes in 1996-1997, to one of the most fierce competitors to ever play the game. James pointed to Game 5 of the Lakers' Western Conference semifinals series against Utah, in which Bryant airballed multiple shots, as a defining moment in Bryant's career.
"Early in his career, he learned from the misses that he had in the series against Utah, and he just used that as motivation and got better and better and better," James said.
After that mortifying experience, Bryant would workout in dark gyms before practices and have marathon shooting sessions. He went on to become a five-time champion, the 2008 NBA MVP, a two-time Finals MVP, and an 18-time All-Star.
"He had zero flaws offensively, zero," James said. "You backed off of him, and he could shoot the three. You body him up a little bit, and he'd go around you. He could shoot the midrange, he could post, he could make free throws. He had zero flaws offensively. That's something I admired as well, just being at a point where the defense will always be at bay, where they can't guard you at all. We just felt like he was immortal offensively because of his skillset and his work ethic."
James and Bryant played alongside one another at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, winning the United States a gold medal.
That experience still stands out to James.
"We became the Redeem Team and it was a dream come true for me to be able to lineup alongside of him, just admiring him for so many years and seeing him from afar, and then being able to be at practices with him, and me watching and learning," James said.
Flash forward to Saturday, when a kid who grew up in the projects of Akron, Ohio, constantly moving and living off of food stamps, passed his idol in points, and now only trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) and Karl Malone (36,928 points).
It was too much to wrap his head around, even for a guy who is averaging 25.2 points and a league-leading 10.8 assists in his 17th season in the league.
James needed to take a trip down memory lane to process it all.
And reflecting back, even he felt awed by what he had just done.
"I'm happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players that ever played, one of the all-time greatest Lakers," James said. "The man's got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It's just crazy."