James, who currently plays for the Lakers, passed Bryant on Saturday to clinch the No. 3 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The Lakers were playing the Philadelphia 76ers, and James needed 18 points to pass Bryant’s career total of 33,643 points.
After Saturday’s game ― which took place in Philadelphia, where Bryant was born ― James recalled meeting Bryant during the 2002 NBA All-Star Weekend. On that occasion, Bryant gave James a red, white and blue design of his signature sneakers. James said he later sported the sneakers in a matchup against Carmelo Anthony, who was in high school at the time. Anthony now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.
“It’s just too much. The story is just too much. It doesn’t make sense,” James told reporters of Bryant. “Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from. The first time I ever met him, he gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal, it doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, or you’re just giving everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically.”
James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”
Bryant congratulated James via Twitter on Saturday night. It would be his last tweet.
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote, tagging James’ account. “Much respect my brother.”
In the game where James surpassed Bryant in the all-time scoring list, he wore sneakers with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” written in gold marker to honor Bryant’s legacy.
James and Bryant teamed up for Olympic gold medals for Team USA in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. James had not issued a statement on Bryant’s death as of Sunday afternoon.
Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, California. Authorities said there were no survivors in the crash, but they will not be publicly name any victims until the county coroner identifies them and officials notify next of kin. An investigation is ongoing.
Bryant was 41 at the time of the crash, and his daughter was 13. The abrupt deaths spurred nationwide mourning.
Bryant, whose nickname was “Black Mamba,” entered the NBA in 1996 after graduating from high school ― a career path similar to James’ own. Bryant played for the Lakers for 20 seasons, helping the team win the NBA championship five times.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter