Sunday night at Staples Center was the kind of night that made the Lakers think about their legacies.
Kobe Bryant was sitting courtside, after all.
It made Anthony Davis look over to Bryant, think about all the championships he won during a 20-year Lakers career, and begin to dream.
“What he’s been able to do for this franchise and to see him sitting courtside just makes you think: Can you do the same thing?” Davis said.
It gave LeBron James the urge to put on a show.
“It’s just dope,” James said. “It’s just so surreal for me just a kid from Akron to be able to have a guy like Kobe just take time out of his day. Even at this point in my career it’s still special.”
Bryant added spice to an otherwise quotidian night for the Lakers. They beat a team they were supposed to beat at home, just like they have been for most of the season. With Sunday’s 122-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks (4-9), the Lakers improved to 11-2, their best record since the 2010-11 season.
The Hawks were led by second-year guard Trae Young, who scored 31 points, but struggled to do much offensively as the Lakers blocked 14 of their shots — a season high.
James produced a typically special performance. At halftime his plus-minus rating was 41 and he finished with 33 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and not a single turnover.
“Zero turnovers,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “Twelve assists. Are you kidding me?”
But the real reason the night was distinctive was because of their infrequent guest.
The last time Bryant attended a Laker game was last season when the Lakers faced the Denver Nuggets. He called it “... awesome” to see James in a Laker uniform, and James finished the game with his first triple-double as a Laker.
On Sunday night, Bryant strolled through a tunnel at Staples Center, with his daughter Gianna, on the way to his courtside seat.
The first player he encountered on the court was Dwight Howard, with whom he clashed when they were teammates. Howard didn’t realize it was Bryant who smacked him on the back of the neck and said he nearly elbowed him.
The two embraced each other, instead.
“I was glad he came to the game,” Howard said. “It was a lot of fun having him in the building. The crowd was going [crazy], so it was great to have him.”
Moments later, Davis, who has long considered Bryant a mentor, walked over for a hug and a handshake. Later in the game, Davis scored on a turnaround jumper on the baseline, and told Bryant he stole that move from him.
After the game started, James made his way over. A cheer burst through the arena as Bryant stood up to greet James.
Then James put on a show for him.
James attacked early and the Lakers were markedly better with him on the court.
When the Hawks were able to put a dent in the Lakers’ lead, it was often because James was on the bench. James had a plus-minus rating of 30 for the game.
Before Vogel took him out of the game for good, James made sure it was well in hand.
He made a three-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer late in the fourth quarter and then leaned over to stare in Bryant’s direction as he ran back down the court.
On the next possession James hit another three. And on the next play, he threw a no-look lob to Kyle Kuzma who scored.
Then he headed to the bench with about three minutes left in the game.
Bryant left with about 1 minute 20 seconds left in the game, while the crowd chanted his name.
“That’s one of the greatest players to ever play this game, take time out of his day on a Sunday,” James said.
“He’s got one of the greatest female players that’s about to come up sitting next to him in Gigi. So I’m just trying to put on a show for him and give him a reason like, ‘OK, we might come to another game.’”