Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star LeBron James blames himself for depriving the NBA of a showdown between Kobe Bryant and James in the 2009 Finals.
“I know the world wanted to see it,” said James to reporters on Tuesday. “I wanted it. We wanted it. He held up his end and I didn’t hold up my end, and I hate that that didn’t happen.”
James and the Cavaliers finished the 2008-09 regular season with 66 wins, one more than the Lakers. While the Lakers advanced in the playoffs through the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, the Cavaliers were stopped in the Eastern Conference Finals by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
James had taken the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, falling to the San Antonio Spurs in a four-game sweep. The Lakers went to the next three Finals but haven’t returned since 2010. James joined the Miami Heat for four-straight appearances and two championships.
Last season James re-signed with the Cavaliers but fell short in the Finals to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Dating back to 2007, either Bryant or James advanced to the Finals, but never to face each other.
“We’ve always competed against one another, and we always wanted to dethrone each other,” said James. “We always had that mutual respect, because we knew how much we put into the game. I’ve always voiced my opinion about ... how great Kobe is, and obviously there will never be another one of him in our league -- ever.”
On Sunday, Bryant announced he’ll retire after his 20th season with the Lakers.
“To know that it’s coming to an end is truly said for me,” said James. “I knew I had to be better because of Kobe Bryant.
“I knew he was in the gym, and I knew he was working on his game. ... So every day that I didn’t want to work out, or every day I felt like I couldn’t give me, I always thought of Kobe.”
The Lakers (2-14) don’t visit Cleveland until Feb. 10. The Cavaliers (13-4) visit the Lakers at Staples Center on March 10.
On Tuesday, gambling website Bovada gave the Lakers’ 500-1 odds to win the West and 1,000-1 to take home the title in June (longer odds than the scant 100-1 given before the start of the season).