Lakers legend Kobe Bryant died at the age of 41 on Sunday after a helicopter crash took his and eight other passengers’ lives in Calabasas, Calif.His death, sudden and staggering, will conjure memories of the legacy he carved for himself by becoming one of the greatest competitors the NBA has ever seen. They are some of the most prolific players to have graced the court, though James has passed Bryant in nearly every major statistical category. They both entered the league straight out of high school. And they both became faces of the league, much like Michael Jordan before them.They have achieved a level of stardom seldom seen in sports, mainly for their transcendent play but also because the NBA has achieved a level of globalism unlike any other sport in the U.S. Their greatness has fueled countless debates and arguments about who was the better scorer, leader, player, Laker.Bryant’s link to James is an immutable part of his legacy — one that will endure forever. And part of that legacy will be his inexorable link to LeBron James.MORE: How Bryant’s legacy took shape by pushing Michael Jordan in ’98 All-Star GameThat connection reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to Bryant’s death, which occurred one day after James — playing for Bryant’s Lakers in his hometown of Philadelphia — passed him for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James wore shoes that read, “Mamba 4 Life” as he did so.James genuflected to Bryant in the aftermath of his latest feat, reflecting on the surreal nature of passing one of his basketball idols:”I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant,” James said. “One of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”Bryant congratulated James for the accomplishment on Twitter that same day:Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020MORE: How Kobe turned a ‘hater’ into an admirerBryant, of course, was notorious for his competitive nature when he played. On the basketball court, he valued winning above all things, and that often manifested in relentless play, heated exchanges and legendary tales of trash talk. It also made his congratulations so much more impactful. He was more amicable in retirement, and more generous with his praise.Bryant’s death, unfortunately, will always be part of James’ latest milestone. But that’s not the only link the two all-timers share.Their careers, which overlapped from 2003 to 2016, are among the most decorated in NBA history, producing eight NBA championships, five NBA Finals MVPs, five NBA MVPs and 34 NBA All-Star selections between them. They never played on the same team in the league, but won a pair of Olympic gold medals together as part of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team in 2008 and ’12. During their time on the ’08 squad, Bryant, then the elder statesman, challenged James in his own right.