When Kobe Bryant made his name known in the National Basketball Association during his first five years, many began comparing him to the undisputed greatest NBA player ever, Michael Jordan.
However, that question has been overdone and it is clear now that after 13 seasons in the NBA, MJ still holds the crown. Watch the “NBA TV Breakdown of the Kobe and MJ Comparison” on YouTube.
A more pressing and compelling question now is, who is better: Kobe or LeBron James?
This question is more practical because they are both the top two players in the NBA. The eras in which Kobe and MJ play and played are different, even though the end of MJ’s career and the beginning of Kobe’s overlapped. Making comparisons of athletes in different eras in sports is almost fruitless and meaningless. Sports evolve, and athletes are becoming a more advanced breed of human. “Kobe or LeBron?” is a question that can produce real answers.
Obviously, there are areas in which each player excels more than the other. I would have Kobe shoot a game-tying or game-winning shot. He has demonstrated throughout his career thus far that he can make the tough and clutch shot. He has had his fair share of misses, but he has been far more clutch than LeBron. LeBron’s buzzer beater against the Golden State Warriors last Friday was the first of his career. Keep in mind that the step-back shot was made over the ultra-athletic Ronny Turiaf.
There are two reasons why you should want Kobe in the waning seconds over LeBron: 1. He is a better pure shooter. He has the ability to create a shot anywhere. He has made the most ridiculous attempts that we initially shake our heads at before we see the ball swish through the net. 2. He is a better free throw shooter. Kobe is an 84-percent career free throw shooter, while Lebron sits about 10 percentage points fewer at 73.2 percent for his career
If I were to choose a player to build around, I would choose LeBron. He has shown that he is the more complete teammate. He has never gotten into tussles with his teammates or coaches and averages 6.6 assists a game. Bryant averages 4.7. LeBron has also carried his team to an NBA finals appearance, after almost single-handedly eliminating the potent Detroit Pistons in the Easter Conference finals. Kobe couldn’t make it to the finals until he got Pau Gasol by his side. LeBron was in an inferior conference, however, and his teammates were arguably better than Kobe’s in the pre-Pau era. Nevertheless, LeBron has presented himself as a leader and makes the players around him better. Sometimes Kobe becomes the only star on his show.
When it comes to the question of heart, Kobe has to take the nod simply for his tremendous work ethic and passion, and for playing through an injury. LeBron sat out two weeks with a swollen knuckle on his non-shooting hand. Kobe has played through knee, pinkie, ring finger and shoulder injuries. Even during the rape trials in Denver, Bryant flew to his games every day and performed better than usual on those days.
Speaking of the trials, Kobe has completely rebuilt his image since the incident. More and more fans are appreciating him and giving him more respect. His inspired play in the Olympics, his actions off the court and his success on it have brought him back into a positive spotlight. The spotlight is even bigger for LeBron, who has the chance to become a billionaire should he choose to sign with the big-market New York Knicks in his free agency.
Both players have clothing lines with Nike and they team up in Vitamin Water ads. LeBron has the advantage because he just has more endorsements (Sprite, State Farm, among others). Maybe if Kobe hadn’t gotten into that trouble in Colorado, it would be a more interesting debate.
One could argue about who would be better to build a team around and you could not go wrong with either one, but I find the argument of who would win a one-on-one game way more fun and intriguing.
Kobe has superior speed that would benefit his slashing to the basket. LeBron has the NFL linebacker physique that could create problems in the paint for Bryant. Kobe is one of the best on the ball one-on-one defenders in the league, but LeBron’s is not too far behind. I am going to give Kobe the nod not because he has better speed, but because of his insane shooting ability. The man is the “making something out of nothing” artist and he has an 81-point performance to prove it.
I know many here will love my column, and many others will disagree. But what makes this debate better than all the others is that we are debating the current undisputed top two.
This is Magic vs. Larry on steroids.
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