One of the great advances in human history is the recognition of bias, experience, expectation, etc. in shaping the way we humans perceive certain realities:
MARGE: Come on, Homer, Japan will be fun. You liked Rashomon.
HOMER: That's not how I remember it.
Regardless of the inability for people to agree on all external realities, there remain some cold hard facts that everyone should agree on no matter what: death comes for us all, kittens and puppies are cute, and Lebron James is currently the best basketball player on the planet. Yet for some reason, during the halftime show of tonight’s Mavs/Suns game on ESPN, both Avery Johnson and Jerry Stackhouse said they’d vote for Kobe over Lebron because Kobe has three rings.
I mean, it’s sometimes hard to find the right metrics by which to determine which of two basketball players is superior when they both have similar skills. And I can see how in some of those close calls, when basketball players maybe played against each other in a play-off series or two with teams of similar abilities, you might use ‘championships won’ as a tie-breaker. But we can’t do that here. Kobe has consistently played with more talented teammates and had better coaching than Lebron. To make my point, why don’t we engage in a little “thought experiment.” Let’s just assume that Kobe played on a team that didn’t have the most dominant player of his era on his team. Let’s just assume that he played on a team that didn’t have the greatest coach in NBA history calling the plays. Ok, you probably guessed where I'm going with this, the 2004-05 season when Kobe led the Lakers to an impressive 34 wins. So when it’s just Kobe, no dominant center and no Phil then Kobe can’t make the play-offs. The 2005-06 season saw the return of Phil, 45 wins and a first round exist from the play-offs. In 2006-07 the Lakers get 42 wins and another first round exit. So when it’s no dominant center and Phil it’s a team that barely makes the play-offs and forces Kobe to point fingers and demand trades. But when Bynum puts his game together and the Lakers somehow convince the Grizzlies it's in their interests to trade Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol, then Kobe is the MVP and the Lakers the best in the West.
And what does Lebron do with an undistinguished coach and no dominant center or any other player of note? Well, he single handedly beats the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. He’s also currently leading his team to the best record in the East. I mean, really, can anyone argue with a straight face that the Cavs wouldn’t be a better team if they had Gasol, Bynum and Phil? Is there any non-glue sniffing Laker fan who would trade Bynum or Gasol for any of the Cavaliers? Isn’t it just absurdly obvious that Lebron is doing the same (team record wise in the 2008 season) as Kobe is with the Lakers but with far less talent surrounding him?
Basically my problems with Kobe go beyond a mere comparison with him and Lebron. Kobe is an enormously gifted athlete who can make more forced shots than anyone else in the league, but that doesn’t make him a better basketball player. Basketball is a team game it’s not about how incredible some of your made shots look. And while less often then it used to be, Kobe still too often uses his unbelievable athleticism to attempt an ill-advised shot fading away from the basket while surrounded by three defenders instead of passing to an open teammate. It'll make the highlights when that shot goes in, but more often than not it doesn't and Kobe glares at the ref while everybody else erases the poor decision-making from their collective memory. So my problem is that there has been an overvaluing of Kobe’s talents for his entire career. I mean, the Shaq v. Kobe debate should never have been close. Kobe should have deferred to Shaq up until the 2006 season (assuming the Lakers didn't appease Kobe by trading Shaq and assuming Kobe could have learned to live with Shaq like every other teammate Shaq ever had who found they could, because then the Lakers would have done what hindsight demonstrated they should have and wrung another championship or two out of the big dog) but Kobe's pride has never allowed him to defer to anything, even the most dominant center of an era. Anyways, just to prove my point let’s look at the cold hard facts of the time those two spent together. From 1996 until 2004, for Laker games featuring O’Neal but not Bryant, the Lakers were 36-8, an .818 winning percentage. In games featuring Bryant but not O’Neal, the Lakers were 53-45, a .541 winning percentage.
So in conclusion, he even though Kobe hits some pretty difficult jumpers at the end of games like he did tonight against the Pacers, if we just focus on those moments and not the three possessions in the last six minutes where he didn’t give the bigs a touch and forced up contested shots that missed, and if we ignore the talent of his teammates and coaches in helping him succeed, or if ignore the lack of success his teams had without a dominant center, or if we look over Lebron’s depleted roster, then we are missing the big picture. Kobe is great, but not as great as many believe. Also, he really should get back to Shaq about the ass taste. It’s just rude to take that long to answer someone’s question.