It is not a landmark court case heard by the Supreme Court to determine the rights of gun owners in public areas. It is a debate is raging in American households across the nation regarding which player in the Association is the one and true best in the NBA. In similar status to the great debates of yesteryear concerning the flatness of Earth, the position of Earth in the galaxy, Pepsi vs. Coke, Magic vs. Bird, and the overall worth of Paris Hilton. The debate is more than who plays better on the court, or who has more sponsors and supporters. The entirety of the argument is based on who the arguer is on a truly molecular level, deep in the endocrine system.
This dispute became popular and hackneyed fodder a couple of seasons ago when LeBron developed his still nubile game into his game of manhood that has become a thing of legend. They both have their legions of fans, usually centered on their home bases of LA and Cleveland, who will argue until they are blue in the face that their man is the greatest in the Association. Quite frankly, it is a tad surprising and disrespectful to Dwyane Wade that he gets nearly no hype at all, considering he has a scoring title and a championship already. But, the lines have been drawn in the proverbial sand and seemingly everyone has chosen their side. This is not the same as arguing over the last slice of pizza or the validity of a marriage license. This is debating over which god is more powerful, whether you favor Zeus or Ra for your all-powerful ubiquitous beings.
Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant was raised overseas by a professional basketball playing father and taught to be on his own from the start, Kobe has become a master of roundball in short order. Those who favor 24 are themselves a case study in the uniqueness of Kobe’s game. Their differences really speak to the dichotomy of Kobe’s prowess and play on and off the court. Some still can’t shake the accusations arising from a shady night in Colorado, while others never doubted from the start. And some others came back to Bryant and forgave him after his embarrassment of the Raptors when he posted a nauseous 81 points.
His game represents his struggle to be accepted by mainstream USA while his inner self lashes out in displays of selfishness. He is the only player to be accused of being selfish for not taking a shot. In a playoff game against Phoenix, he continually deferred, perhaps to the detriment of the Lakers, and hoped that his teammates would pick up the slack. They didn’t, and the media licked their chops to tear apart Kobe’s attitude towards the game and his inability to be a good team player.
But more imperative to the Kobe saga is the marriage with Shaq and resulting divorce from the big man. Although talented enough to be the leader of a championship team, Kobe seemed destined to forever play second fiddle to the Big Diesel. While with the Lakers, Kobe teamed with Shaq for a string of championships that usually resulted in Shaq being lauded as the best player in the NBA just after the exiting of Jordan. Kobe, driven by his need to be the best, was uncomfortable with his position as the second best player on a team. Then it happened. Rumors began to swirl like a twister of hate as whispers of a fractured locker room spread throughout the media. It was and is widely believed that Kobe wanted Shaq out of LA so that he could grab the reigns of the franchise and lead it through the rest of the decade. The nation again chose sides on the Kobe debate. They either chose the aging O’Neal or the rising star. The Lakers chose Kobe and dealt Shaq to the eventual champion Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant.
He had gotten his wish: he was the man in charge. No longer will he not receive the credit for the successes that were rightfully his. Unfortunately, the teams that the Lakers trotted out were nowhere near ready to contend for a championship, regardless of the splendorous play of Kobe. He posted unconscious scoring numbers while the Lakers drafted young guns to try and build a contender around the unstoppable Bryant. With the Lakers unable to attain instant success, the young and brash side of Kobe came out in the form of trade demands and then denying such things ever existed. The possibility of Kobe changing addresses was closer than most realize, with heavy talks between the Lakers and Chicago Bulls nearly closing the deal.
Luckily for those on the left coast, the trade talks faded like an old pair of jeans and Phil Jackson came back from retirement in order to chase the illusive tenth championship as a coach. Both Kobe and Phil had something to prove, not only to themselves but also to their critics. Kobe, determined to find championship triumph without the help of Shaq, worked tirelessly every day to better himself and his team. Phil, with all of the Zen-like qualities that compose his aura of calmness, wanted to break Red’s record for most championships by a head coach. They would find help along the way with the likes of Trevor Ariza and the greatest steal of all time in Pau Gasol. Their first trip back to the Finals was not what you would call a success as long time rival Boston thwarted them. This most recent season would be much more nourishing for Kobe and Phil as they defeated the Orlando Magic in 5 games.
He is the best clutch shooter in the game, the guy you want with the ball in his hands in the waning seconds of any contest. Like MJ, he is a killer in the fading moments, earning him the nickname of “The Black Mamba”. His last second exploits garnering much praise and attention and striking fear into the heart of opponents as they realize he is about to drain the awkward 25-foot shot to seal the victory. Playing with a broken finger in his shooting hand the past two seasons, he has still managed to lead his Lakers to consecutive Finals appearances pulling away with one championship.
Kobe represents more than a stellar jump shot, tenacious defense, and fearlessness in the clutch. He represents the never-ending quest for perfection that causes by its own actions, more dips in the valleys than highs at the peaks. Those who reside on the Kobe side of the argument share this walk through the valley of torment and eternal disappointment with little relief. His seemingly incessant fortitude and will is in an echelon that few players have reached.
It is that resolution to be the best that has vaulted Kobe up the ranks and earned him the honors and admiration that comes with being the best player in the Association. He has already attained nearly all the individual accolades that a player could possibly gather: scoring titles, MVP’s, first team honors. He is a perennial All-Star who routinely is the subject of MVP worthiness debates. His game has been refined through the meticulous cleaning of a fine-toothed comb in order to perfect the turn around jump shot, a bank shot, and freakish control of his body while in the air. He has been considered the best player in the game for quite some time now, with LeBron’s rise in play only recently adding some merit to the debate.
LeBron James is an entire different entity than Kobe, on and off the court. His pursuit of perfection is an entire different saga, and some feel that he has already achieved said perfection. He is an absolutely terrifying physical force who has almost alien awareness and basketball intelligence. His ability to drive to the basket and improvise in the air is bloodcurdling and frustrates opponents and their fans alike. He is a freak of nature who is comfortable in multiple roles on the team, ranging from imposing defender to jaw dropping dunk artist. His melting pot of talent has yet to fully blossom and is novel to the Association. He is what every team wants and is the encapsulation of what the next generation of players for basketball will try to emulate.
Growing up an impoverished child in the middle of Akron, Ohio, James wasn’t privy to the world of professional basketball like Bryant. Instead, he would float from house to house, unable to find much stability in his life. However, through all of his turmoil and tribulations, James persevered and steadily grew into a young phenom destined for greatness. He was, after all, the chosen one. The man who would rescue the NBA from the depths of despair after Michael Jordan finally retired. The next in a long line of basketball players to dominate and change the way the game is played.
Playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, James would win numerous state titles and claims of the next big thing as he refined his game to more than highlight dunks and passes. He was somewhat of a mythical creature, before unseen and thought impossible to exist. A 6’8” forward with untold strength and an idiotic ability to throw down a slam dunk, who also had a sixth sense on the floor allowing him to find the open man anywhere on the court and hit him with an implausible pass. He was basically Dominique Wilkins and Magic Johnson rolled into one mammoth of a player who was as unstoppable as he was awe-inspiring.
He would enter the infamous draft of 2003 straight out of high school, choosing to skip college and begin his assault on the league before he could buy alcohol. The basketball gods smiled upon the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, allowing them to attain the #1 pick in the draft. Little debate surrounded the choice for Cleveland, the pick of the hometown kid with hall-of-fame talent was obvious and any other pick would be suicidal. Now embraced as the one and true savior for Cleveland, and James would not disappoint the legions of Clevelanders hoping to see some success for their ailing franchise.
He would lead the charge for an immediate and vast turnaround for the Cavaliers, leading them to the playoffs within only a few short seasons. His exploits garnering national attention and love/hate, he earned himself MVP considerations and All-Star appearances while leading Cleveland deeper and deeper into the playoffs. All the while, his grasp of the game was on full display, showing ease weaving in and out of greatness and perfection while being guarded by the best defenders in the league. He is a prototype of the perfect player: a man the size of a forward, with the grace, agility, and speed of a guard, the handling of a point, and a finishing ability of epic proportions, he could be unstoppable.
Entirely different than Kobe in his mannerisms and approach to the media, James was portrayed a different way. A continual jokester and easily approachable by the media, James wasn’t portrayed as the outsider like Bryant was and at times still is. He was the fun loving big kid who, while phenomenally talented and great, could be loved by more than just basketball fans and hosted the ESPYs and Saturday Night Live. With the media love affair growing for LeBron, a small legion of oppositionists grew to preach the greatness of Kobe and point out the flaws of LeBron’s game, most notably the lack of a consistent jump shot, his lackadaisical approach to defense, and his at times poor free throw shooting.
Undeterred by the boisterous complaints by some media and fans, James continued his steady climb to dominance while slaying inferior opponents. He improved his shot and began to trust his teammates, leading to a forgettable Finals appearance in 2007, being swept by the San Antonio Spurs. He would come back and earn his first scoring title the next season, only to be ousted out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Boston Celtics in 7 games. This most recent season, with possibly the best team to surround James in his career, he would lead the Cavaliers to the best record in team history. The legendary season would score James the MVP award a year after friendly foe Kobe Bryant notched the honor.
This after he joined Kobe for the USA Olympic basketball team that would win the gold and restore the United States’ place as #1 in the world. For the summer, LeBron studied Kobe’s actions and dedication to being the best. How he trained, worked out, and devotion to stopping the opponents best offensive scorer. He came back to the NBA with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to winning every game he played in. His defensive swats and stuffs littered SportsCenter highlights and earned him praise from fans and haters alike. This was a new LeBron who had added Hulk like bulk and muscle to his already massive frame, adding a new threat and layer to his phenomenal game.
However, he would again lose in the playoffs to the Orlando Magic, who would go on to lose to Kobe and the champion Lakers. What ensued has added to the many prisms of LeBron. Always seen as a stand up guy who was too mature for his age, LeBron’s immaturity finally broke through. He refused to shake hands with the victorious Orlando team and afterwards decided to skip his media session that is required by the NBA. The media debated about the intent of LeBron’s snub of the winners and media, was he a spoiled brat who felt that he deserved the world on a silver platter? Then, the now infamous tape-gate occurred at a basketball camp pickup game organized by LeBron. Nike apparently confiscated tapes showing a college player posterizing LeBron by landing a gigantic dunk over the superstar who was trying to stop the embarrassment from ever happening. Again, a controversy swirled about like a hurricane of hullabaloo over the actions of LeBron. Was he again showing his true colors of immaturity and pettiness with his actions? More likely, it is just the growing pains of a soon to be King, knowing the proximity of his dominance and rule over his kingdom but unable and not allowed to flaunt his power just yet.
The debate is just starting to form legs with LeBron slowly overtaking some of the area once dominated by Kobe. It is the personification of a younger, stronger male lion invading and overthrowing the reigning lion king of the area. Kobe, the older and wiser male, still has a few years left of governance over the Association before LeBron officially grabs the reigns. Still without any championships, LeBron is #2 on the list of NBA players and Kobe stands atop the hill of greatness fending off all those who challenge him. The gap is thinning with each passing moment. LeBron has continued his development, increasing his shooting range and touch and putting more emphasis on his defensive play. These two are all-time great talents whose basketball acumen is unrivaled by many and can be matched by a select few in the game (Dwyane Wade and possibly a future Kevin Durant). Regardless, we should enjoy the show while we still can and watch these two titans of the game battle for supremacy in the world of basketball.