Now that we’ve come to our annual Knocking LeBron Out of the Playoffs Day, many people are writing articles on the demise of LeBron, analyzing his no-show in Game 5, and his failure to again carry his team to the Finals.
While there is no debate that LeBron has become the King of the regular season, leading his Cavs to back-to-back 60 win campaigns, the fact of the matter is that yet again, the NBA Finals will be happening and LeBron will not be present.
One man who is still playing and is likely to be playing in the Finals for a third straight year and seventh time in his career is Kobe Bryant, who once again is showing us that he is the best player in the league come playoff time, which is the only time of the year that truly matters. Instead of analyzing LeBron like everyone else, it is time to salute Kobe.
Now I know there are going to be Laker Haters jumping up and saying “Quit jocking Kobe!” and all that nonsense, but for those of you with actual basketball IQ and not blind hate for anything Lakers/Kobe, read on as we discuss the Real King of the NBA.
Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James; what do they all have in common? Since Michael Jordan retired, they have all been players framed as competition to Kobe as either the best guard in the league in the early 2000’s, or the best player in the league today. Stressing that again, since the early 2000’s, before LeBron and D-Wade played in the NBA. The longevity of Kobe’s greatness is something we oftentimes forget. While being compared to these players throughout his career, Kobe has kept his play at a consistently impressive level while guys like Carter and McGrady have fallen off of their game or never became the superstars they were expected to be.
One of the main reasons that we are constantly falling into a trap of comparison is the ESPN highlight reel, with its Top 10 Plays of high-flying dunks, crossovers, and track-down blocks on the fastbreak. We become sucked into believing that the players with the most highlights are the best players in the league. While we are in a media-heavy sports world, the fact of the matter is that making the SportsCenter Top Ten is in no way an indicator of who the best player in the NBA is.
Now, as a Lakers fan who is a little biased and has seen Kobe grow throughout his entire career, it is easy for me to dismiss any arguments saying LeBron is the best player in the league and has surpassed Kobe. I will definitely admit in a heartbeat that LeBron is a better athlete and certainly the most physically gifted player in the NBA. But that does not make you the best player in the league. I will even go so far as to say the back-to-back MVP has become the King of the regular season; his numbers are insane and I have no problem admitting he was the best player in the league during the first 82. But that’s just the regular season; his struggles getting the Cavs to the Finals show just how difficult what Kobe does every spring really is.
Let’s get to the one thing that matters, and the one thing that makes this debate disrespectful to Kobe: playoff success. What has Kobe done in the playoffs? Let’s list his accomplishments:
All-Time Lakers Playoff Scoring Leader
Fourth All-Time in Playoff Points Scored
Six NBA Finals Appearances
Four NBA Titles
One Finals MVP
And the list goes on and on. Those are incredible accomplishments. Don’t forget the Lakers have had guys by the name of West, Magic, Kareem, Wilt, Elgin Baylor, and Shaq, who are not slouches by any means – and Kobe has scored more playoff points for the Lakers than all of them. Also, only three players in the history of the NBA have scored more points in the playoffs than Kobe.
However, the most important things about all of those accomplishments are the NBA championships. Regardless of how you feel about the three-peat, if you argue that Shaq won those titles (which is short-sighted, considering the fact that Laker fans who watched those playoff runs know Kobe dominated a big-man heavy West until Shaq dominated a guard-heavy East in the Finals, thus runaway Finals MVP’s), the fact of the matter is the man has four championships. You can’t overlook that he was the best or second-best player on four championship teams, period.
At this point in his career, Kobe has accomplished nearly every single individual and team accolade possible. The only thing missing from his hardware shelf is a Defensive Player of The Year award, but with an MVP, Finals MVP, multiple All-NBA and All-First Team Defensive selections, and four rings on the mantle, that can be overlooked.
Despite his greatness, Kobe is clearly aging the same way Jordan, Bird, Magic, and all the greats before him did – but he uses his basketball intelligence and overall skills to continue playing at a high level. While LeBron gets by on pure talent and athleticism, the fact is that Kobe has been able to prolong his career while still playing at that level by adding a different aspect to his game year by year. His work ethic is unmatched, as we all know, and that separates him from the other superstars in the league.
Lastly, whether you want to call it a killer instinct, being clutch, or being the best closer in the league, the fact of the matter is that Kobe has a knack for big moments that you can’t teach; either you have it or you don’t, it’s not developed. Kobe has it wired in him the same way Jordan did – nothing drives him but winning. While LeBron is worried about building a global empire and becoming an icon, Kobe is focused solely on winning, and that is exactly what we use to judge players throughout history.
While LeBron is an unmatched talent in the league today, he is like every other player in the league that is looking up at Kobe on the NBA’s totem poll. Whether it’s Bron, or Wade, or Durant, or a player we don’t even know about yet, eventually someone will take Kobe’s place as the greatest in the game. At the end of the day though, all that truly matters are championships. Two more titles and Kobe will match Jordan, period. But until those things happen, let’s stop the comparisons and just enjoy watching a once-in-a-generation great add to his legacy.
Belal Abdelfattah is BSO’s newest writer and comes from a long background in sports writing at the Sports Authority Blog and The Block Radio. You can follow Belal on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/belal_a