View this post on Instagram
Howard led the Orlando Magic to a six-game win over the top-seeded Cavs in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, preventing a highly anticipated matchup against the Lakers, who defeated the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Howard, who said he was motivated by the series of Nike commercials that used puppets to promote the Bryant-James rivalry, scored 40 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the deciding Game 6 victory against the Cavs. The center averaged 25.8 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in the series, compared to James’ averages of 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per outing.
Howard and the Magic lost the Finals to the Lakers in five games, with Bryant named NBA Finals MVP after averaging 32.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. Howard put up 15.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game.
It was the first championship for Bryant without Shaquille O’Neal as a Lakers teammate, while James left Cleveland following the 2009-10 season and wound up winning his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2012.
Bryant and James ultimately never met in the NBA Finals, with the Lakers legend retiring after the 2015-16 season, when James was able to bring the Cavaliers their first title during a four-season run of Finals matchups against the Golden State Warriors.
Howard and Bryant were Lakers teammates in the 2012-13 season, which ended with them getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Howard and James also wound up as teammates with the Lakers and helped Los Angeles win the 2020 NBA championship.
The 37-year-old, who last played in the NBA in with the Lakers in the 2021-22 season, recently compared the experiences of playing with both as teammates and reportedly has been looking for a reunion with James in L.A. this offseason.
So, there is perhaps another chapter or two left to be written connecting Howard, James and Bryant in the annals of NBA history.