Lakers fans long for the days when Kobe Bryant was the King of LA.
LOS ANGELES – It doesn’t happen often. But it has happened here.
Somehow, LeBron James is getting smaller. And Kobe Bryant is getting larger.
James is still playing and putting up numbers. Bryant has been retired for two seasons now.
Most would have never imagined this dynamic, especially after James joined the storied Los Angeles Lakers in a free agent move that shook NBA America.
But it backfired. It failed.
While James’ legend has definitely shrunk after the Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoffs Friday night, many Lakers’ fans long for Kobe.
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The Kobe that wanted to win more than anything – or anybody else. The Kobe who coached up his teammates to get the job done. The Kobe that once put his teammates on his back and got them to the playoffs when that squad had no business getting there.
LeBron couldn’t do the same with this Lakers team. Happy days were supposed to show up with LeBron. Instead, the Lakers missed the postseason for the sixth straight season.
And while things didn’t end great for the Lakers and Kobe – LA failed to make the playoffs his final four seasons – the fans still believe he, not LeBron, is more of a true Laker.
LeBron knows there’s that sentiment out there. It’s impossible to ignore it. After all, Kobe helped the Lakers’ franchise win five championships.
LeBron came to LA with three titles in nine trips to the NBA Finals.
And many hoped James came to LA to restore this team’s rightful place in the elite level of the league, not just an also-ran that hadn’t made the playoffs the previous five season before he got here.
That’s why James took to social media on Sunday with a message to all the frustrated Lakers fans.
“Believe me! Promise #LakerNation the spell won’t last much longer,” he wrote. “I swear. The marathon continues!”
James knew he had to say something because all the blame has been directed at him, despite the fact he missed 18 games with a groin injury. The young Lakers went 6-12 in those games.
Still, the Lakers had a chance to make it to the playoffs after James came back, but lost to a slew of bad teams – including Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis and the Suns – en route to being on the outside looking in for the postseason.
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“Obviously, it’s been a tough season for all of us,” James told the media after losing to the Brooklyn Nets in LA.
Later he added, “Playoffs are never promised. You’ve got to come out and work. For me personally, you just continue to put work in and see what you can do to help.”
For James, it’s the first time in 13 years that he won’t be going to the playoffs. It’s something no one saw coming – even with a young squad, even in the Western Conference.
Still, for some Lakers’ fans, the frustration came largely because it seemed as if James’ attention was more on Hollywood, not basketball.
James has so many projects going that many joked that he has more projects than the Lakers have wins this season.
For sure, it made some wonder if James came to LA to be a star – as in, movie star – or to win a championship for the city.
Few were convinced it was the latter. And that’s when the tables started to turn. Some fans pushed LeBron away and wanted Kobe back.
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For sure, Bryant and the imprint he left with the Lakers is growing. Fans here, now more than ever, relish the days when he was the main man on the big stage in front of the bright lights, when stars watched from the audience nightly.
It got so bad for LeBron about a month ago that fans turned on him at Staples Center.
In the final moments of a Lakers loss on March 4th, a few loud Lakers’ fans chanted “We want Kobe!” after LeBron missed a free throw.
There have been so many missteps along the way for LeBron trying to takeover LA. There was a free pizza event in the summer he mentioned on social media. LeBron hinted he might show up for. He didn’t. It angered some.
Before the season even started, some Kobe fans defaced Lakers’ murals around town that included LeBron in them. It happened twice.
Many in LA said there are two kind of basketballs fans here: Lakers fans and Kobe fans.
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And after a brutal first season for LeBron here, there are even more Kobe fans than before. Book it.