Kobe Bryant is 36-years old. He’s been an all-star, a known scorer. He’s been a champion and he’s been the best player in the game. Bryant has headlined the NBA for years, and will continue to do so till he walks away from the game, for good.

Bryant has a year and a half left in his career. Maybe less, depending on his body. Maybe more, unlikely but again, depending on his body. Bryant has changed physically, he’s older. His body continues to say no more, while his heart says otherwise. Mentally, his brain says you were on top, you still are, but no-longer are you top dog.

Thursday night Bryant and the Lakers welcomed LeBron James, the new top dog and the Cavaliers to the Staple Center. Bryant and James have become close friends, but have built a rivalry through competition on the court. James needed the 109-102 win last night more than ever, and Bryant might have been a helping hand.

It has not been all sunshine and rainbows in Cleveland since James came back. He’s joined forces with all-stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The process to winning has not been easy. James has missed time with injury, and Love is injured. The roster has changed with a couple trades. No one has really had a reason to smile.

A 20-20 start wasn’t the way things were supposed to begin. The Cavaliers have gone from being compared to the 2010-11 Miami Heat, to a comparison of the 2012-13 Lakers. A team Bryant probably would say he’s not too fond of.

The Cavaliers were riding a 6-game losing streak heading into Thursday night’s game. They needed the win, or maybe David Blatt would have had a short trip to the NBA as head coach.

Bryant didn’t need the win, nor did the Lakers. Bryant is on a long journey of farewells. The Lakers are looking to the future with young talent and cap space. Bryant can smile like he did on the court Thursday. He has five rings, multiple scoring titles, a MVP, and he passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. He’s done it all. He would like another title, as unlikely as that is. So, Bryant smiled.

He knew Thursday night was one of the last times he would go up against James, who will pass Bryant on the scoring list as Bryant did Jordan. It was a game for Bryant to enjoy. It’s been all business for his entire career, now he can in a sense enjoy it. Take it all in; before it’s all over.

Bryant smiled on the court, laughing with other players, especially James. It loosened up James, and maybe even his teammates. Riding a losing streak with the NBA audience talking about the team as a failure is no cause to laugh. However, to turn it around James and the Cavaliers needed to loosen up.

Bryant had nothing to lose. He was playing against a rival, a future Hall-of-Famer and most importantly a friend. Bryant enjoyed it leading to 19-points, a career-high 17-assists and a lot of laughs. His chill attitude on this night led to James scoring 36-points, Love who’s dealing with back spasms taking a charge and most importantly a Cavaliers win.

Bryant and James have been long-time rivals, and will continue to be long after they both retire. The conversation of whose better will never die, but on Thursday night it was about the love of the game. It was meant to be enjoyed for Bryant. His love for the game led to James going back to enjoying the game as well. Leading to a must needed Cavaliers win.