To All Black Mamba Fans: 'Kobe Vs. LeBron' Was Never A Legitimate Debate
Kobe Bryant's last ever dual versus LeBron James was a great one, and most of it was due to the Black Mamba.
It's no surprise when James comes out with his best -- he's still in his prime, after all -- but Kobe doing the same is a rarity these days.
On Thursday night, though, it all came together. Kobe scored 26 points and dished two assists, getting buckets and a lack of dimes.
In other words, it was a vintage Kobe performance.
The fact that Bryant matched James' performance (24 points, 7 assists) is even more admirable, for the most obvious reason. Their names might bring virtually the same amount of star power, but the two players are incomparable now.
The 37-year-old Kobe is coming off of multiple season-ending injuries in his 20th season. He is on his way out of the league with literally no shot of making the playoffs this year. LeBron is six years younger and (spoiler alert) probably gonna make it to the Finals for the sixth straight year.
But there was indeed a time, particularly between 2008 and 2010 when "Kobe vs. LeBron" was a genuine conversation to be had.
Simply put, it was the hottest debate in sports. It was a fun debate, too. And, in retrospect, it was a debate that knocked down a few of my grades and frequently made me forget to eat my lunch in the school cafeteria because I was too busy arguing against opposing opinions.
Speaking of which, while we're admitting our own mistakes, I just have one question to ask Kobe fans: Do you guys realize how ridiculous you all used to sound?
Of all the things the "Kobe vs. LeBron" debate was, there was one thing it certainly wasn't: legitimate.
That's right, there was never a credible argument to support the fact Kobe Bryant was actually a better basketball player than LeBron James.
The fact so many people thought there was one is a genuine credit to Kobe. Between the summer before the 2007-2008 season to the end of 2009-2010, the man was killing himself for success.
After threatening to leave Los Angeles, Kobe ended up going to three straight finals, winning two of them and earning his one and only league MVP trophy in the process.
His part-time job was just as impressive. In the summer of 2007, Kobe became the leader of the squad that brought back swag to Team USA, the "Redeem Team."
The following year in Beijing, he led them to a gold medal after taking over the single greatest Olympic final against the single-greatest opponent (Pau Gasol's Spain) in modern history.
In those three years, Kobe went to every NBA Final, experienced the revival of the NBA-best Celtics-Lakers rivalry, won two rings, got the MVP monkey off his back and helped restore the mystique of Team USA basketball. And because he did it all at the same damn time, while playing with a broken finger he refused to get surgery on, he restored his own character, too.
With championship drives every season, Olympic duty during the summer, working out like crazy and not using broken ligaments as an excuse, Kobe was the epitome of Mr. No Days Off. And for that, he owned the period between 2007-2010.
The manner of Kobe's success, furthermore, lent itself to a favorable comparison between him and LeBron.
Kobe had regained a reputation as the master of all things clutch. LeBron, on the other hand, was suffering meltdowns in the playoffs. Kobe held his end of the bargain of making it to the Kobe-LeBron Finals matchup all fans lusted for; LeBron had not.
By the time the summer of 2010 came around, LeBron was running toward Miami. Kobe had won the 'ship twice after toughing it out and staying with the Lakers in 2007.
Kobe had conquered the big three of the Boston Celtics, the same Celtics that essentially ended LeBron's first tenure in Cleveland.
Kobe was the image of a player who had all the determination, drive and will to succeed. LeBron, the opposite.
LeBron James' stock was at an all-time low. If anything, the universal disappointment highlighted exactly why he was the best basketball player on Earth.
We were disappointed because we knew LeBron was the best. LeBron was faster, stronger, younger and more skilled than anyone else in the league.
He was a better defender, passer, scorer, rebounder, blocker and playmaker, and he combined all of those skills all at once better than everyone else.
Those are the things that define a better player. The knocks against LeBron and argument in favor of Kobe Bryant largely came down to questions of character.
Kobe's will was greater. He had more nerves down the stretch than LeBron. James wasn't as good a leader; he didn't want it enough. And the rings, who could forget the rings?
In 2008, the words "three rings" was enough to close any argument for Kobe fans. By 2010, it was five. In 2016, it still sounds as ridiculous as it did before.
LeBron James performed better than any player on the floor during the 2015 Finals, yet Stephen Curry walked away with the ring. No matter how much of star-driven league the NBA is, winning the big one is still very much down to not only who has the best player, but also the best coach, supporting cast and front office.
Rings are far down the list of tiebreakers when it comes to an actual legitimate debate. And that's the thing about "Kobe vs. LeBron." The fact "rings" featured so heavily in the James-Bryant discourse was telling. No argument that focused on skill alone could possibly cut it.
For as much as Kobe owned the period when the debate was at its hottest, there was still no basis to compare him to LeBron James as a specimen, athlete or as the best basketball player in the NBA.