LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are two of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. Bryant was a five-time NBA champion. James is a three-time NBA champion. They are both also two of the top scorers and playmakers in NBA history. We, however, never got to see them play against each other in the NBA Finals. A reason that never happened has a lot to do with Dwight Howard.
LeBron James or Kobe Bryant were in 12 straight NBA Finals
For 12 straight seasons, the NBA Finals featured either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. None of them featured both of them at the same time, though.
James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2006-07. They, however, ultimately lost to the San Antonio Spurs. In the next season, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers went to the Finals but lost to the Boston Celtics. Bryant and the Lakers then went to the next two Finals after that, though, in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and ultimately won the championship in both seasons.
Then starting in 2010-11, James went to eight straight NBA Finals with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. He ultimately won two straight titles with the Heat in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and then won his third NBA championship with the Cavaliers during the 2015-16 season.
So, out of the 12 straight NBA Finals that featured James or Bryant, in which one did the two have the best chance to meet?
James and Bryant could have met in 2008-09
If LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were ever going to meet in the NBA Finals, the 2008-09 season would have been the season for it to happen.
In that season, Bryant and the Lakers were coming off a season where they reached the Finals but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. James and the Cleveland Cavaliers only went to the Eastern Conference Semifinals the season before, but they were really good in 2008-09.
James ultimately led the Cavaliers to the most wins in franchise history that season as they went 66-16. They had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference too and the best record in the entire NBA. Who had the second-best record in the NBA, and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference? The Los Angeles Lakers at 65-17.
The Cavaliers ultimately did not make the Finals that year, though. The Lakers, on the other hand, helped Bryant win his fourth NBA championship as they defeated the Orlando Magic in the Finals in five games.
Dwight Howard kept them from meeting in the Finals
With the Cleveland Cavaliers having a 66-16 record, they were the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals in 2008-09. They, however, were upset in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The team that upset them was the Orlando Magic, who Dwight Howard was the leader of. The Magic ultimately won the Conference Finals in six games over the Cavaliers. James, of course, dominated in the series. He averaged 38.5 points per game to go with 8.3 rebounds and eight assists.
Howard also dominated, though, leading the Magic to the NBA Finals. Howard averaged 25.8 points per game and 13 rebounds in the series. Additionally, in the Game 6 series-clinching win, Howard scored 40 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Howard was an absolute dominant big man in those days, and he was the reason James did not meet Bryant in the NBA Finals that year.
So, we unfortunately never got to see Kobe Bryant and LeBron James face off in the NBA Finals. Instead, we got Dwight Howard versus Kobe Bryant, which was not the most exciting series to watch. If James had gotten more help in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic that year, NBA history could be a lot different.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference