Saying that “the dreams are substantially bigger now” for the young Los Angeles Lakers core, Kobe Bryant personally welcomed LeBron James to the Lakers family shortly after James committed to the storied franchise on Sunday.
Bryant told his former rival that he is here to support the newest Lakers superstar and his family and that James’ arrival has pushed the Lakers back to “front and center again and top of the conversation” as a destination in the NBA.
“I spoke to him during the playoffs and then I talked to him last night, right after the decision,” Bryant told Stephen A. Smith on ESPN radio. “I told him, ‘Welcome to the family, man.’ It sounds crazy but I said, ‘Dude you are part of the family now. So anything you need on my end, I got you. Whatever the case may be, I am here for you.’ Just wishing him and his family the best and looking forward to seeing them when they get in.”
“Dude, as people, you got to help your brothers do well,” added the ultra-competitive Bryant, who goes from rivals with James to being a part of the same franchise. “I had a great run, I played 20 years, it was awesome, I had a great time, we are fortunate enough to win five championships and all that. Now it is somebody else’s time. And that is what the Lakers have always been about.”
“When I came here, Magic [Johnson] welcomed me with open arms, me and Shaq [O’Neal], and we were able to carry on the tradition with Magic’s and Kareem’s [Abdul-Jabbar] support and certainly it is our responsibility to pay that forward. So anything that I can do whatsoever to help LeBron bring a championship back to the city of LA, I am all for it.”
Bryant said his first reaction to the news that James had agreed to a four-year deal with an option worth up to $153.3 million was that the Lakers’ brass of controlling owner Jeanie Buss, Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka “are beasts!”
Bryant repeatedly expressed how thrilled he was for his longtime former agent and friend Pelinka and Buss, who cleaned house in early 2017 and took control while hiring Johnson to be president of basketball operations and Pelinka as GM.
“I sent Jeanie a picture from a meme from the ‘Game of Thrones,'” Bryant told Rachel Nichols on “The Jump.” “I sent her a picture of Khaleesi riding on the ship going back to her homeland with all the ships behind her… and I told her, I said, Jeanie, because she was having a hard time saying, OK, do I want to take over the organization or not… I said Jeanie sometimes the ‘Mother of Dragons’ has just got to be the ‘Mother of Dragons.’ And Jeanie went full Khaleesi.”
As for how James’ arrival will impact the young horses in the Lakers stable, Bryant said the team’s defense and point guard Lonzo Ball and forward Kyle Kuzma will improve rapidly under James’ direction.
“With LeBron on this roster, I don’t think it will be much of an issue to make the playoffs,” Bryant said of the Lakers, who finished 35-47 but endured a rash of injuries toward the end of last season. “The dreams are substantially bigger now. LeBron accelerates the learning curve for these young guys and they will be able to learn a lot faster because they will get a chance to watch him work every single day, how he comes to practice, how he takes care of his body and how he handles his nutrition. They will be able to learn really, really quickly. This is really going to help Lonzo’s and Kyle’s growth and the rest of the guys.”
“… For us to have a player like LeBron here, it just creates so much energy [for the city of Los Angeles and the NBA],” Bryant added. “Players like Lonzo and Kyle and others now have that really good pressure to push them forward sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see them respond to it.”
Bryant gushed about Johnson’s ability to secure James in a purple and gold uniform and said that with all Johnson has done and is doing for the organization “they might have to give this dude another statue.”
Bryant also thinks James won’t have any problems playing in the scorching spotlight of the most glamorous franchise in the NBA.
“It requires a certain amount of thick skin because it is a place that is used to a certain legacy,” Bryant said. “You have to be able to have thick skin and the inner confidence that things will be just fine and then be able to instill that into the rest of your teammates as you are going through the worst of times.
“LeBron has proven that he can do that. They have thrown everything at this kid since he was in high school and he has been able to deal and persevere with it and I am looking forward to him doing the same thing here.”
Bryant said he looks forward to extending a helping hand in any way to James in the same fashion that Johnson and other Lakers legends did for him. And he thinks James’ presence in Los Angeles will make the Lakers the premier destination again in the NBA.
“It takes a certain player to put on that jersey,” Bryant said. “Our franchise has been really fortunate to have some truly great, historic players to represent the franchise. Extremely fortunate now to have LeBron as one of those players.
“For other players around the league, I think it has pushed the Lakers front and center again and top of the conversation. It creates an energy around the city which I think is extremely important not just for the city itself but the league as a whole. The league tends to do better when the Lakers and Boston are in contention.”
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