Late last decade, they served as models for puppets.
“I seem to have misplaced my three championship rings,” the puppet Kobe Bryant quipped in one of the commercials. “Have you seen them?”
“Kobe, I’m trying to play a game,” the puppet LeBron James moaned. “I don’t have time for this.”
“You probably don’t even know what they look like,” the puppet Bryant teased. “See, for each one of these delicious chocolate chip cookies, there is an equally delicious championship ring that you don’t have. One for each chocolate-y cookie! You’ve got to be hungry, LeBron …”
That Nike promotional campaign has always represented unfulfilled promise, since its core premise of James and Bryant clashing in an NBA Finals never came to pass, and likely never will. Neither player is any less hungry than those puppets, not even after Bryant won his fifth championship and James captured his first. Yet only James has more championship cookies browning in the oven, plus plenty of dough in the fridge.
While Bryant is too proud to fully concede that reality aloud, Sunday’s postgame ode to James and the Heat — following a 107-97 Miami victory — was striking just the same. Perhaps the Lakers guard simply found the queries preferable to solicitations of his psychoanalysis of dour teammate Dwight Howard.
Still, it was stunning to hear Bryant, famously stingy with compliments, lavish so many on a contemporary rival, not only indulging endless questions about James but even elaborating on initial answers. James said Friday that he didn’t buy the concept of “facilitator Kobe,” but this seemed as close as Bryant might ever come to passing a torch.