Taylor Hawkins Sports EditorOver the past couple of days, a friend of mine and I have debated over who is, or will be, better between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
He contests that Bryant will more than likely always be regarded as the better player, despite final championship totals, because he did not have to leave his team and join up with other superstars to win titles. I was flabbergasted and began to wonder if this was a common thought process regarding the two.
Bryant will go down as one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history once his storied career comes to a close. That much is certain. He has five NBA championships to his name, two NBA Finals MVPs, four All-Star Game MVPs, one regular season MVP, two Olympic gold medals, he is the Lakers’ all time leader in points, and was the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 points.
In his relatively short pro career, James has already won an NBA Championship for which he was named MVP and four regular season MVP titles to go along with many other amazing statistical claims. James has a long ways to go to get to Bryant’s level, but to say that he can’t do it because he changed teams is absurd. He changed teams because the Cleveland Cavaliers gave him little choice.
In James’ time in Cleveland, the Cavaliers could not get enough key players to win a championship. No player can win it by himself, not even Michael Jordan. People always try to make the asinine statement that Jordan won his six titles virtually alone, which was absolutely not the case.
They tend to forget that Scottie Pippen was ranked as one of the top 50 players in NBA history and Dennis Rodman, before his experimentation as a U.S. ambassador, was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. If the Bulls had not made certain that Jordan had help, there is not telling if he would have stayed in Chicago.
Let’s not forget Bryant.
“Kobe never would have left L.A. to try and win a championship somewhere else,” my friend said with confidence. “He would have stayed until they won one.”
Of course he wouldn’t have left. The Lakers will break the bank to get the players they need to compete for championships. Kobe had Shaq in his prime, who won the Finals’ MVP for their three titles together. For his next run, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, a top three big man during that period.
The Cavaliers gave James Mo Williams, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, an old Ben Wallace, and an even older Shaquille O’Neil. Is there any question as to why James could not win with that group?
I’m not the biggest LeBron James fan. In fact, he is in my top ten least liked players. He is far too big and athletic to flop like he does, even though he claims that he doesn’t know how to flop. He tries to rely on the outside shot too often at times when it is obvious that he can get to the goal at will.
But I will give credit where it is due. The Miami Heat is his team, not Dwayne Wade’s and not Chris Bosh’s. He is unquestionably the best player in the world right now. He is in a class by himself.
He may go back to Cleveland one day to win that elusive title for his home state; however, he does not owe them that. If James had become seriously injured and his career would have been in jeopardy, would the Cavaliers have kept him on the payroll as a sign of loyalty?
Not a chance. The NBA is a business and must be treated that way not only by the teams, but by the players also.
Blame James for a lot of things, but don’t diminish his accomplishments because he changed teams to win a title. Winning is the nature of the game and he did whatever it took to do that. You can’t blame him for wanting his title. He did what he deemed necessary to take his career to the next level, and that is something that we all do at one point or another.
James has not quite reached the career status of Bryant yet, but at his current pace, it would be hard to imagine him not getting there. Judge them by their play on the court, and their play on the court alone.