More and more I’m hearing people say they’re sick of Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James.
Sick of the Nike puppets. Sick of the Vitamin Water ads debating the Black Mamba and the Chosen One. And sick of the NBA “pushing” for that matchup in the NBA Finals.
But the NBA’s great debate can be settled tonight. All it will take is a loss to Orlando by James’ Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where it has really become win or go home in this elimination game.
It’s baffling, by the way, how anyone outside of Denver and Orlando can root against a Kobe-LeBron Finals. That’s like saying, ‘Eh, I’d rather not see Tiger and Phil in the final pairing on Sunday at Augusta.’
But for all of King James’ stats and individual honors and regular season wins this season, it should become clear to everyone that Bryant still wears the crown as the league’s best player.
James averaged more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks than Bryant in the regular season. He also shot a higher percentage from the field while leading the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins, one more than Bryant’s Lakers. He took home the much deserved honor as MVP after putting together a season that swayed many into thinking he’s actually surpassed Bryant.
But what we’re all witnessing in these conference finals is the one ingredient that still separates the two players, the one factor that Bryant has that has his team one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals rather than one defeat from summer vacation — will.
Bryant, no matter how ugly things have been for the Lakers at times, will not let his team get bounced from the playoffs. Each time the Lakers’ backs have been against the wall, Bryant has come to the rescue. Of course the Lakers need five more wins to seal the deal. But thus far it’s been Bryant who’s willed his team through the adversity. Bryant who carried the Lakers past Utah, a down but determined Houston team and now a loaded and confident Denver team.
James, on the other hand, had it easy while leading the Cavs through a reeling Detroit squad and a scared Atlanta team. But when Cleveland faced a team just as talented and hungry as it in Orlando, James hasn’t had the answer. His eight turnovers in Game 4 cost his team the game and proved that he still is nowhere near the fourth-quarter finisher that Bryant is.
Supporters of James will point to the lack of help James has received from his teammates. And while it’s true, the same can be said out West with Bryant, who has only gotten a few key plays and even fewer solid performances out of his supporting cast. But the same people who were quick to use Bryant’s talented teammates against him in the great debate likely won’t remember how Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum have largely toiled through these playoffs as non-factors.
Bryant is still the game’s best, and it’s time to admit we’re all witnesses.