LeBron James says matching up against Carmelo Anthony 'always special'

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Saturday, December 7, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nearly two decades after they met at a USA Basketball camp, LeBron James, playing for his third NBA team, and Carmelo Anthony, playing for his fifth, matched up once again in theLakers' 136-113 winover the Trail Blazers on Friday.

James got the better of Anthony, putting up 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds to the Blazers star's 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals.

"It's always special," James, 34, said of facing Anthony, 35, in 2019 after they first connected as teenagers. "I can't even lie. It's always special to be on the floor with a brother of mine."

James and Anthony averaged an identical 24 points per game at the 2001 USA Basketball Men's Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, Colorado. James' team won the tournament, providing a precursor to the success he would have over Anthony during their pro careers, with James' teams making nine NBA Finals appearances and winning three championships while Anthony's teams never advanced past the conference finals.

The two paired up in countless All-Star Games and won two Olympic gold medals together in Beijing and London (as well as a bronze in Athens), as their careers stayed interwoven from the moment they were selected with two of the top three picks in the 2003 draft.

"We got so much history," James said. "We've been competing for a long time, we've been on the same team with the Olympics and then just our brotherhood. That's my brother, man. It's always great to be able to compete and just be on the same floor -- period. No matter if it's, like I said, with Team USA, when we're teammates or just competing on our respective clubs."

With the win, James improved to 20-14 in their head-to-head battles in the regular season. In those games, James is averaging 25.9 points, 7.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds, and Anthony is averaging 22 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

"It was good," Anthony said of Friday's reunion. "It's always fun going against him, playing against him in Year 17 for both of us. Being able to compete against one another at this level, and in now our 17th year, you can't ask for more than that."

James shot 2-of-3 for four points with Anthony as his primary defender in the half court on Friday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When the matchup was flipped, Anthony went 0-for-2.

Not that either of them will focus on the stats from the game. Anthony told ESPN that the pair caught up over dinner Thursday, and basketball was hardly the focus of the conversation.

Anthony said he values James' friendship, but after he was released by the Houston Rockets after 10 games last season,there was plenty on his mind besides imagining what transpired Friday and taking the court with James again.

"I seriously didn't think about basketball, to be honest with you," Anthony said. "It was kind of hard to think about basketball and going up against guys and things like that. It was kind of hard to."

James and the 20-3 Lakers will move on from Friday, continuing their pursuit of a championship, while Anthony and the 9-14 Blazers have more modest immediate goals of getting back on the right side of .500.

But for a night, at least, the pair got to turn back the clock and fall back into the matchup that has entertained basketball fans for years.

Said Lakers coach Frank Vogel: "It's always good to see guys that have had such decorated careers that came into the league together, that have become friends, have an opportunity to compete for a game that matters."

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