This is getting old and even for a Laker lover such as myself discussing the inevitable Kobe Bryant-LeBron James comparison is turning into talk of an NFL team coming back to Los Angeles – it’s pointless. Comparing The Masked Mamba to the Self-Proclaimed King is disrespectful not only to Kobe but to the rest of the greats that have played the game. Since Kobe is in the discussion for G.O.A.T. merely mentioning LeBron in the same sentence is like bringing up Back to The Future III at a panel discussion for Citizen Kane.
Mr. James has a sick game. Physically he’s the most amazing talent that has ever stepped onto an NBA court. But mentally he’s weaker than Rick Ankiel trying to throw a strike in the World Series. Physical ability will never be the only measure of greatness at the highest level of any athletic competition.
Yesterday Kobe against reasserted himself as the superior player to James and didn’t waste any time doing so.
From the jump the Masked Mamba was out to set the tone for how this game was going to be played. Bryant imposed his will on every would-be Miami defender, unleashing an 18-point first quarter barrage that didn’t even give James time to shake hands with all the celebs in attendance at Staples. Kobe’s aggressive nature wasn’t lost on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. He pretty much admitted to Bryant’s mentality being the main reason why his team was unable to overcome a focused Laker squad.
“Bryant set the tone. He was very efficient to start, very aggressive and from that point we were just playing catch-up the entire game.”
Now ask yourself, how often have you seen Kobe do just that – set the tone? It happens so often that one is almost impossible to separate from another. To be sure this isn’t the same Mamba of the past that would have ridden that hot start to a 50-point performance. Now at days he picks and chooses the most optimal moments.
Now ask yourself how often you see LeBron do anything similar…I’ll wait…
There are moments, even stretches when James will take over a game, making the court his private playground. Strangely that doesn’t always translate to his teammates though. James’ dominance can be seen in the box score yet doesn’t always translate to the actual game.
Therein can be found the major difference between the two players.
Bryant’s pedigree is such that he demands the men on his team to step up to his level. With James it’s more of a party atmosphere. Everyone knows LeBron is hosting but he’s not the type that will require all the attendees to respect his house rules. He’d rather see people loving him than knowing where the boundaries are.
LeBron’s desire to be admired by all greatly affects his prowess as an NBA player. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird even the beloved Magic Johnson didn’t care whether or not their teammates liked them. They could hate all they wanted but loved getting rings in the process.
Men like Matt Barnes, a then Ron Artest and even one-time villain Karl Malone all gladly accepted the opportunity to play with Bryant knowing full and well what kind of basketball personality he is. Why do you think that is? Because where Kobe goes championship jewelry follows. Go ahead and make your argument for playing with Shaquille O’Neal, being coached by Phil Jackson, blah, blah, blah. Nobody does it alone, LeBron knows that or else he wouldn’t have taken his talents to South Beach.
That infamous decision also reflects why James will never be on par with Bryant. Kobe is old school. Leading up to a game ripe with talking points Kobe routinely ok the uninteresting high road, avoiding any and all controversy the press spurned on in hopes of sparking a Dwyane Wade-Kobe Bryant broken nose brouhaha.
All along we knew Kobe was fuming. No doubt he truly meant there were no hard feelings towards Wade but at the same time Bryant has openly complained about having to wear that mask. So, when the ball was tipped, Mamba got his revenge the old school way. He let his game do the talking. Then afterwards he gave another bland interview as if his performance was just something he does…ho hum.
This discussion is getting really old. Those that are expecting some reversal of fortune from James and his mental approach are fooling themselves. James is an NBA vet he’s not a young buck in the league anymore. His game is his game. He won’t morph into a coldblooded killer with the mental approach necessary to will his team to victory against all odds. And in case you doubt that do yourself a favor and watch yesterday’s game again. Kobe didn’t do it alone. But he sure did make sure to up his game and aggression when it was needed by his teammates.
Being clutch isn’t always about taking the last shot (something James has a serious phobia of, mind you). Being clutch is also about feeling out the game and knowing when and where your abilities are most required. For James, this is something that is severely lacking in his arsenal. For Bryant, this is something he’s been improving each year in the league. At this point James will always be playing from behind against Bryant. Kobe is supposed to be on his way down and James on his way up. Funny, it didn’t seem that way on Sunday.