This website is devoted to the numerous controversial issues surrounding Kobe Bryant. All other topics that come up in the process — including even the Lakers, as a team — are incidental and beside the point. They are merely a means to the desired end.
That said, I launched this website with a three part series addressing certain aspects of the comparison between Bryant and LeBron James. I then briefly compared Bryant to James in an article reviewing a performance of Bryant’s that was tremendous and extraordinary, yet at the same time commonplace and ordinary.
Next came an article explaining why LeBron James should not be considered for the MVP this year, based on Bryant’s past experience. Then, I explained why Kobe’s achievements in the West (both this year and over the past two years) are worth more than LeBron’s this year, because of the respective strength and weakness of their conferences. Finally, I made the case for Kobe Bryant as MVP, and in so doing revisited why LeBron should not be considered a valid MVP candidate for this season.
Most recently, I wrote an in-depth analysis of how context affects statistics, and how to properly compare two players statistically, given their differing contexts. As examples, I compared James and Bryant… again.
To put it simply: Nothing. (Sorry, trick question!) The fact is, I love LeBron James, and I think he is a fantastic player. I have no issues with him. And just to be clear, let me tell you a little about how I feel and think about James — in bullet form, so it’s impossible to miss:
In particular, I want to draw your attention to those last two points. Do those sound like the opinions of a “LeBron hater” to you? I don’t think so.
Let me put this in context for you. Over the past two years, it has been widely suggested that Dwyane Wade is better and greater than Kobe Bryant. Let me tell you this: I scoff at such a notion, and always have. Not only is Dwyane Wade not at Kobe Bryant’s level, but he is not close. He has never been, and he never will be. I say that with absolutely conviction and certainty: Dwyane Wade will never come anywhere near being as good, or as great, as Kobe Bryant.
(NOTE: Now, at least, the truth has become obvious, and painfully so — how could anyone have compared Wade, who has led Heat to an NBA worst 10-44 record in the pathetic East despite the return of four of the five starters from their championship team (until the recent O’Neil trade), to Kobe Bryant, who has consistently led a sub-par team to the playoffs in the much tougher West?)
So you understand, from a Kobe Bryant fan, to even admit that a player could one day — perhaps soon — be on Kobe’s level is the ultimate form of respect. To recognize the possibility that he will one day surpass Kobe, let alone consider it likely, is almost unthinkable. And it’s certainly not the opinion of someone who “has issues” with LeBron.
Hopefully that clears that up. I don’t know what else I could say that would better convey my admiration for James. But there are still unanswered questions. Why do I spend so much time comparing him to Kobe? Why do I devote so much energy to proving that he’s still not better than Bryant?
The answer is two-fold. First, the “Kobe vs. LeBron” debate is one of the hot issues of this season. Remember, the purpose of this website is “to respond to Kobe Bryant’s critics, and to disprove many of the false arguments that have been used against him.” In doing so, it is only natural that the issues that I focus on will be those that are most relevant to the current time. Were this two years ago, with the primary criticism of Bryant being that he’s “selfish” and “doesn’t make his teammates better,” those would be among the issues that I would spend the most time on. They would be recurring topics on this site.
But this is 2008, and while that criticism is still used by the blindest, most ignorant, and most fervent of Bryant’s critics, it is no longer the primary issue in the ongoing Kobe Bryant discussion. LeBron James is. This is partly because James has continued to improve, and continues to close the gap between himself and Kobe. It is also partly because the easiest way for Kobe’s critics to dismiss him is simply to replace him.
Consider, for a moment, what would happen if I went about addressing some of the other criticisms that people have long directed at Bryant. Were I to address the claim that he is a “selfish ballhog,” or refute the claim that he “rode Shaq’s coattails to three championships,” the response would always be the same: “Who cares? LeBron is better, anyways!”
On the other hand, if I take the time to show that LeBron is actually not yet at Kobe’s level, then I will be free to address all other issues, criticisms both past and present, without the potential for “Kobe haters” to simply dismiss the entire discussion by claiming LeBron’s superiority. Thus, it is important to first deal with the most significant current challenge to Kobe’s greatness before moving on to address some of the more consistent criticism he has received over the years.
Think of it this way: I’m actually not the one comparing LeBron James to Kobe Bryant. That is being done all the time. I’m just the one responding to the comparisons, and keeping them in perspective.
My second reason for discussing LeBron at such great length is his fans. And by “his fans,” I mean Cavs fans, LeBron James fans, Kobe “haters,” the sports media, and the NBA itself.
On the part of LeBron’s fans, their enthusiasm is expected and understandable. Aside from their team winning a championship, there is very little that is more exciting than the development of one of their own into the next great player. Nonetheless, one expects that at a certain point a person will listen to reason. LeBron has only been to the Finals once, and he didn’t perform well. Can you imagine Lakers fans calling Kobe “the next Michael Jordan” before he even won his first championship? After he won a couple, it was a valid, if very debatable, position. But before he even won his first? It would have been ludicrous.
(NOTE: I’m sure a few Lakers fans did say such things before Kobe won a championship — I would call them equally unreasonable.)
It’s one thing for the fans to jump the gun in declaring that LeBron James has fully arrived. And clearly, “Kobe haters” will use any excuse they can find to dismiss Bryant’s greatness. But it is in much poorer taste, in my opinion, for the sports media and the NBA itself to join in by prematurely crowning him for things he has not yet achieved.
LeBron James was handed the NBA’s equivalent of the “key to the city” upon arrival. He was called “King James” coming into the NBA, before even playing his first game. Around the same time, Sports Illustrated dubbed him “The Chosen One.” The latter essentially sums up LeBron James’ relationship with the NBA: Hailed as the savior of the league, he was placed on the throne long before he was deserving of it. While any other player would have to actually win a championship to receive half as much recognition, all he had to do was get to the Finals.
Meanwhile, the media seems more than willing to adjust the finish line for James. In the past few days, I’ve read at least five different articles in very prominent publications, all suggesting that the MVP race has become a two-man race between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. While it’s nice to see them finally being forced to recognize Bryant, I am puzzled at how James even enters into this conversation.
Over the past two years, voters have made it abundantly clear that a valid MVP candidate must come from a team with 50+ wins. In a year like this, where the #8 seed in the West is on pace for 50 wins, one would expect that bar to be raised even higher. How is it, then, that the current consensus is that the MVP is a tight race between Bryant and James, when James’ Cavs are on pace for 45 wins in the East? According to their own criteria of the past couple years — criteria they used to deny Kobe the MVP Award — a player from a 45-win team should not even be an MVP candidate.
These are just a few of the ways in which the the fans, sports media, and even the NBA itself are clamoring for any opportunity that can be blown out of proportion to allow them to prematurely crown James “The King,” declare him the best in the NBA, and hand the reigns over to him.
This, then, is the other reason why I write so much about LeBron — because there is so much undeserved hype, spreading like wildfire.
I have no beef with James, no criticism whatsoever — except perhaps that he’s too good, to the point that his fans — even those who should know better — have a tendency to get carried away.
And when it really comes down to it, the simplest answer is that when I write about LeBron James, it isn’t about LeBron James. It’s about Kobe Bryant. LeBron just happens to come up in conversations involving Bryant on a regular basis.
So when you see me write about LeBron James, remember that I’m not the one who started this comparison. And when you see me arguing against him, remember that I hate arguing against him, and wish I didn’t have to. But as long as they are comparing him to Kobe Bryant — let alone claiming he has surpassed Bryant — I will have no choice but to respond in kind, to provide a dose of truth and a return to reality.