EDITORIAL: The King vs The Black Mamba

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, defends Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

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Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, defends Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

The debate of the greatest basketball player of all-time has been heating up recently… perhaps more than ever before.  Most believe the candidates to be between Michael Jordan and LeBron James.  However, there are a great deal of people who believe Kobe Bryant is being discredited and should be viewed as a top two or three player of all-time.  Take hall of famer and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley for example who said, back in May 2017, “LeBron is amazing, but I don’t understand why people just move him right past Kobe Bryant; Kobe Bryant won five championships and he’s done some things we’ve never seen before.”  Or take the words of Michael Jordan himself, who would not place LeBron over Kobe because “There’s something about five that beats three.”  Well, I personally believe these statements from NBA legends are ridiculous because LeBron is head and shoulders above Kobe in the all-time rankings.

LeBron is by far the more accomplished player in comparison to Kobe Bryant.  LeBron James has won four MVPs while Kobe has only won one MVP. It’s hard for me to understand how a player with one MVP can be a top three player all-time when there have been thirteen players to win the award multiple times.  LeBron James has been selected to the All-NBA first team a record twelve times and he’s only 33 compared to Bryant who made eleven All-NBA first team selections and retired at 40. 

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Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant stands with Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won the game 114-108. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Now, I obviously have not mentioned one of the most important, if not the most important, accomplishment a professional athlete can obtain which is championships.  At face value, Bryant obviously is ahead of James in this category with five championships to three championships. But there are a lot of factors that can disprove the 5-3 argument.  The leading factor is the teammate Kobe got to play with: Shaquille O’Neal. Not to take away from Bryant’s greatness, but Shaq easily was the best player on the Lakers teams of the O’Neal/Bryant dynasty.  And that is why O’Neal won all three Finals MVPs when the Lakers won their three-peat championships 2000-2002. LeBron has had some great teammates such Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh, and Kevin Love, but none of them compare to the dominance of Shaquille O’Neal, and none of them were better than LeBron the way Shaq was better than Bryant.  

Then if you look at competition, LeBron has faced much tougher opponents in the finals.  In the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe, along with an MVP Shaquille O’Neal, faced a 34-year old Reggie Miller as the only Hall of Famer on the Pacers, unless you want to include a 36-year old Chris Mullin who averaged 1.3 points per game in that year’s finals.  O’Neal, by the way, averaged 38 points per game and 16.7 rebounds in that series. Then, fast forward to the 2001 finals where the Lakers beat Allen Iverson’s 76ers 4-1. That 76ers team was one of the worst teams to make the NBA finals as Iverson averaged more than double the amount of points as the second leading scorer on his team (Iverson: 35.6 PPG Mutombo: 16.8 PPG).  The last championship of the Shaq-Kobe era looked like good competition on paper but O’Neal went off yet again with 36.3 PPG and 12.3 rebounds leading the Lakers to a sweep over the Kenyon Martin and Jason Kidd Nets.

Then you look at LeBron’s competition in the finals and he has faced some of the better teams in NBA history.  James faced the dynasty of Gregg Popovich’s Spurs three times led by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard.  James also faced the Thunder in 2012 that featured three future MVPs in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. And most recently the Warriors four times as he beat the 73-9 Golden State team.  That followed by two matchups with a Warriors team featuring Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; all of them being all-stars. To put into perspective how good LeBron’s finals opponents have been, he has only been favored twice out of those nine finals he has been in.

So when you look at the fact that Kobe won three championships with a significantly better player on his team against weaker competition, compared to LeBron who has won three championships as the undisputed best player on his team against better competition, then the 5-3 argument does not work.  And on top of that you could look at the success or rather lack of success that Kobe had after O’Neal’s departure. Sure, Bryant’s stats went up and he became an even bigger superstar, but the Lakers did not have the same amount of success as they once did. The Lakers missed the playoffs in the 2004-2005 season for the first time since the 93-94 season and it was not until the 2007-2008 season where Bryant would see the finals again.  Then we look at LeBron and he has been to eight straight finals. And look at the lack of success of the teams LeBron has left. James left Cleveland the offseason before the 2010-2011 season and by the 2011 NBA draft the Cavaliers were picking first overall, followed by the 4th overall pick in the 2012 draft and then back to back first overall picks in 2013 and 2014. Fast forward a few years and LeBron left Miami in the offseason before the 2014-15 season.  In the 2014-15 season the Heat did not even make the playoffs and have not been to the Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron’s departure.

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Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant are seen on the court together during an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 120-108. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Lastly look at the numbers, these stats definitely do not lie and it is important to note both players came into the league at the same age.  Start with the simple statistics, LeBron already has more rebounds (1,368 difference) and assists (1,902 difference) in less years. LeBron (27.2 PPG) averages more points in a game than Kobe (25.0 PPG) and Bryant was a score first player compared to LeBron who has a balance of a pass first and score first mentality.  As far as career point totals, Bryant has 33,643 points in his career and LeBron has 31,038. But if Lebron plays two more seasons, which would give him 17 seasons in the NBA (Bryant played 20 seasons) and puts up 1,600 points in both of those seasons which is would be a career low for James, he would still pass Bryant in total points.  James has shot a career 50% from the field compared to Bryant who is a career 45% shooter. Bryant has also never shot above 47% from the field in one season. James has shot above 47% every season of his career besides his rookie year and has shot above 50% eight times in his 15-year career. LeBron makes a 9.2 point difference when he is on the court compared to when he is off the court which outdoes Bryant, who only makes a 3.9 point difference, so LeBron just plays more valuable minutes compared to Kobe.

Truly take in everything that has been said, forget any bias you have for or against either player.  James is a more accomplished player and according to the statistics, he is also a more skilled player.  So when it comes to ranking the best basketball players ever, the king’s throne towers over the mamba’s den.