Nike hoped its puppet commercials featuring both players two years ago would foretell an NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and Cavaliers. Instead, Cleveland fell to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals and Bryant collected his first ring without Shaq against Dwight Howard.
Many thought James' "decision" to take his talents to South Beach last season would set up a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals. Instead, the Lakers fell in a four-game Western Conference semifinals sweep to the Dallas Mavericks, and James saved his fourth-quarter disappearing act for the Mavericks.
In the West's 152-149 All-Star victory Sunday over the East, Bryant defended James on the last possession and then chastised him for passing up the final shot.
Here's another pseudo connection: Bryant and James filmed a Sprite commercial together. The two players, along with Andrea Bargnani, Al Horford, Omri Casspi and Serge Ibaka, will scout 24 amateur players from around the world to play on one of two teams in the Sprite Uncontainable Game during the 2013 NBA All-Star weekend in Houston.
"We're more of the chess players," Bryant told ESPN.com of his team, Intense. "We're more of the thinkers, kinda analytical approach to the game; X's and O's, you know, that kind of stuff."
"You be aggressive, but you also play as a team," James said of his dream player on his team, Sudden. "That's No. 1."
The stakes aren't as high as the two actually matching up in a game that defines their legacy. But it at least provides another excuse for Nike to make another puppet commercial.
— Mark Medina
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