INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Many years have passed since Tyronn Lue started his playing career as a teammate of Kobe Bryant's on the Los Angeles Lakers from 1998-2001. Yet you would have thought it was just yesterday that Lue and Bryant were donning the purple and gold together from the detail that Lue provided when sharing his favorite "Black Mamba" memory.
"We're playing 5-on-5 one day and it was the gold team against the white team," Lue recalled Tuesday after the Cleveland Cavaliers' practice before Bryant and the Lakers come to town Wednesday. "It was myself, Devean George, Brian Shaw, Mark Madsen and I want to say Slava Medvedenko, playing against the first unit -- against Fish (Derek Fisher), Kob', Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal).
"Long story short is, it was a game point and [Bryant] drove baseline and I was at the elbow. And he drove baseline and I went down the lane and I pinned his dunk against the glass. He tried to dunk it and I blocked it against the glass. We came down, Devean George made a layup for game and Brian Shaw went, ‘Ahhh, he blocked you!' He went crazy. Kobe wanted to fight me at first and then, second, he wanted to play one-on-one after practice.
"'We going to play one-on-one, me and you.' I said, ‘No, I'm not playing you one-on-one.' He was so mad and then, after that, it was just, every day we stepped onto the court, he just went after me every single day. It was crazy. And then, like other stories, just playing one-on-one every day, every time we acquired a new guy, he would play those guys one-on-one after every practice just to show them, like, ‘I'm the man, I'm the man.' Did the same thing with Glen Rice. Just his competitive nature, man, it was just unbelievable."
Lue was in a reminiscing mood on the occasion of Bryant playing his final game of his 20-year career in Cleveland. They've both come a long way since that scrimmage showdown in Lue's second season. Lue, 38, has gone on to become a head coach in the league just like fellow Bryant teammates in Shaw (49) and Luke Walton (35), while the 37-year-old Bryant is still lacing them up.
"It just makes me feel old," Lue said. "It shows his greatness, how long he's been able to play and sustain it for so long, it's just a tribute to him."
Lue said he has not spoken to Bryant since taking over as Cavs coach after David Blatt was fired. In fact, the last time he got in touch with Bryant was to ask him to send him an autographed No. 24 uniform for a friend. But Lue expects a warm greeting with him Wednesday.
"You talk to Kobe when you get a chance, but you don't want to wear your relationship out with him," Lue said. "Whenever I see him, whenever I call him or need to talk to him, he's always there. He always picks up and I know [Wednesday] he'll come over probably give me a hug before the game and talk to me say congratulations … [It's] such a great bond that I have with him, playing in L.A. for three years, winning two championships. It's just a bond that can't be broken."
That bond seems contrary to Bryant's "Friends Hang Sometimes, Banners Hang Forever" catchphrase he recently trademarked. Lue explained that Bryant's message was, in his opinion, the importance of prioritizing winning. It's the same reason why Bryant and LeBron James did not have much of a relationship for years.
"When you have a guy like Kobe, who is a competitor the way that he is, and then the being the No. 1 at the top of the game for so long, he's went through a lot of generations where it was the Tracy McGrady and Kobe comparison, then it was the Vince Carter and Kobe comparison," Lue said. "He kind of took that challenge and still was always No. 1. It was kind of the same thing with LeBron. [Since he came] into the league, he's always had that situation where he had to be the best, every single night. LeBron's withstood a lot of guys also. So Kobe, knowing LeBron's coming in to try to take his spot, he's not going to open up to him and give him any leeway or give him any reason to try to come in and take his spot is what he was thinking. I'm glad they have a great relationship [now] because, as far as I've been in the league, those two guys have carried the league for a long time."
Watching Bryant from afar this season, Lue sees his former teammate enjoying the game and opening up more than he ever has in the past. He wants the same for James someday, when "The King" faces his own basketball mortality.
"I know there's a lot of media pressure and lot of pressure to win championships, but just for LeBron, I hope he's able to enjoy it," Lue said. "You know, sit back and just take it all in and enjoy the game and enjoy the success he's had. I think that will be good for him like it is for Kobe right now."