It is the debate to end all debates.
Who is the best basketball player in the entire world? Is it Kobe Bryant, star shooting-guard of the Los Angeles Lakers, or Lebron James, the supreme forward, who took his talents to South Beach for the Miami Heat?
For years now, NBA fans across the globe have debated about who is the best player in the world. Most times, the answer comes down to two players — Kobe or Lebron. The comparisons are inevitable, but the style in which both athletes play, make for quite the contrast.
Bryant, is currently in his 16th NBA season, playing his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. When Bryant entered the league, he was one of the first high school athletes to make the jump to the pros, skipping college in the process. The number of players to follow in his footsteps includes the likes of Lebron James, and superstar center Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.
Bryant made strides from just being a high-flying act early in his career, as he added a number of post-moves and an unstoppable jump shot to his repertoire.
Bryant’s ability to be a lockdown defender, in addition to a player who revels in the clutch, has given him a reputation as a big-game athlete.
Bryant takes it upon himself to make tough shots in close games, which has made him one of the greatest closers the NBA has ever seen. Aside from annual assaults on Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s all time scoring record (38,387), Bryant has reached the mountaintop several times, winning five NBA championships, including three with Shaquille O’Neal who he just passed for fifth all time on the scoring list this week (28,601).
James entered the NBA as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft. Before even playing his first game, James was touted as the next big thing, signing a $90 million contract with Nike, and being labeled as “The King.”
Living up to the hype could have been a challenge for some, but Lebron exceeded it in his very first game.
Playing for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, James enhanced a once dormant franchise making them the center of NBA attention for several seasons. Averaging nearly 28 points per game for his career, James has been dominant during every season, playing an all around game averaging nearly eight rebounds and assists to go along with his gaudy point total.
But after several playoff failures in Cleveland, the summer of 2010, which was dubbed the “Summer of Lebron” led to a number of teams pursuing James’ talents. All the hype went to his head, and after years of being allowed to do anything with the Cavaliers, from having his entourage at every game to being the most popular and liked athlete across the country, James felt untouchable.
After making the decision to join the Miami Heat on a nationally televised special, dubbed “The Decision” no less, Lebron’s popularity took a huge hit.
He became the villain of the NBA, teaming up with fellow superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. No longer wearing the 23 on his jersey, James donned a new number and a new persona.
Despite all the changes, his game remained as good as ever, as James posted his career averages and led the Heat to the NBA Finals where they came up just short against the Dallas Mavericks.
That is the one elusive factor of James’ career.
He has yet to win an NBA title.
To be regarded as one of the all-time greats, being mentioned in the same category as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — Lebron must win championships. Despite all of his talents, he pales in comparison to what Bryant has achieved from a winning aspect.
James has had success against Bryant, however, as he has won 9 of the previous 11 matchups, outplaying him in the process. For all the regular season success James had, he cannot seem to find the right balance in the playoffs despite some signs of brilliance.
It is no coincidence that this season, the two leading scorers in the NBA are Kobe Bryant (29.4 points) and Lebron James (28.5 points). Bryant is unwilling to relinquish his spot as the most effective and best offensive player in the game, while James is continually improving his game, becoming a much more effective player close to the basket.
Much to the dismay of Nike executives, NBA fans, and people everywhere, these two former 2008 Olympic teammates may never get to meet in the NBA Finals.
While Miami is a favorite this season to reach the championship, the Lakers are floundering in the West. In 2009 and 2010, the Lakers won the NBA title, defeating the teams that eliminated James in the previous rounds.
If the two legends were to square off in the finals, a true winner would be determined, perhaps finally ending the debate of who in fact is the best NBA player. While the two shrug off the comparisons and questions, both know the importance of beating the other in a championship, as it would be embedded in their career accomplishments.
For now, we can sit back and watch these two great athletes compete every night, wondering what would happen if the two eventually did meet to determine the best.