"It's kind of fun to watch," Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott brushed his brow and cracked his voice. "I think at times, even myself stood there being a fan because that's an epic match-up of two of the best ever."
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James faced off on Thursday night, as the two players that have featured in every NBA Finals from 2007 until 2015 but never at the same time played one final game. Bryant "seemed like he had a flashback," as Scott put it, and the 37-year-old finished tied as the game's leading scorer with 26 points to match Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, who is 14 years younger than Bryant.
The 37-year-old hit fadeaway jump shot after fadeaway jump shot. He even pump faked James out of his shoes, used his pivot foot and scored a crafty lay-up at the basket. Bryant burned white hot, and the fans at Staples Center showered their superstar with thunderous applause. Thursday night was fun.
"We both enjoy having those match-ups," Bryant said after facing James for the final time. "At times when he was trying to post me up, I'm waving my teammates to get the hell away. Do not double. This is fun. I don't want doubles ever."
While Thursday night may have been meaningless fun, Bryant had a wholly different message for James in his quest to bring a title to Cleveland.
"The thing I'd be obsessing over is those boys up in Golden State," Bryant said after Thursday's game. "You have to make sure you're ready to do battle if you're fortunate enough to get there and Golden State is fortunate enough to get there. And that's the problem. From that standpoint, you have to figure that out."
Bryant continued, "You can't leave it to chance. You have to really study. So, hopefully, (James') mind is focused on that. It's not focused on where he is in his career and how far he is. You have to focus on the problem."
Bryant, though, would go one step farther and provide fascinating insight into the maniacal focus that made him a five-time champion and one of the most successful players in NBA history.
"Me playing LeBron on Christmas day or we're playing him on a Tuesday in Cleveland meant zero to me," Bryant shared. "It meant zero because there was so much pressure that I put on myself to get this teem to a championship that I was always looking at where we were going to end up."
However, Bryant's final year is not about winning a title or constructing a contender. It's about preservation. But as he approaches the end of a barren season, Bryant's obsession with championships and his process of winning a title juxtaposed next to his current losing reality made for an interesting conclusion to the night.
"Now, it's a little different. It's not the championship at the end," Bryant said with a stern gaze. "And I don't play around with that. I sat here years ago and talking to you guys, I understand what's at stake. It's not funny to me. It's not a game to me. It's very, very serious to me. So, that's why I wouldn't be up here smiling, joking around."
"I got a job to do," Bryant let out an intense gasp. "We can smile after we win a championship."
Bryant concluded his interview with a slightly helpless smile that encapsulated his final seasons in the league. He added, "Now, obviously, that's not the case."