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Where's the love for Kobe AND LeBron?

April 3, 2009 | 12:21 pm

Posted by Ben Taylor -

P1.mvp LeBron and Kobe. Kobe and LeBron.  Widely considered the two premier basketball players in the world. (Dwyane Wade is unfairly discounted far too often in the discussion.) But as Steve Aschburner points out on, conversations about the two surefire Hall of Famers often degenerate into a polarizing debate.

As Aschburner observes, it seems almost natural to cast James and Bryant as antagonists. He lists a bunch of superficial similarities that pit them on opposing sides of a superhero showdown, and that's all well and good. Indeed, we thrive on rivalries in sports, and typically pick sides: Magic-Bird, Federer-Nadal, Woods-every other golfer alive. In Aschburner's words, we've become accustomed to using “or” in between names.

But just because they complement each other perfectly as adversaries in the prime-time drama that is the NBA (a new season of playoffs coming on TNT and the ABC family beginning this month!) doesn't mean there has to be so much animosity towards Kobe, if one is of the opinion that LeBron is better.  Or vice versa.  After all, both dazzle and amaze on the hardwood. 

As a basketball fan, it's hard to see why carrying the opinion that one is superior should lead to an avalanche of negativity toward said opposing star.   Instead of railing either on LBJ or the Mamba, wouldn't it boost one's argument to extol the virtues of the No. 2? Ask boxing historians why they often exclude Mike Tyson from the Greatest-of-All-Time discussion and they will ask you to name a great fighter whom Tyson defeated. Devaluing a player's top rival is counterproductive when carving a pedestal reserved for the greatest.

As Laker fans' favorite writer Bill Simmons noted on, Kobe, LeBron and even Wade are driving each other to evolve their games. It's an arms race - or a hoops race - and the greatest motivator these guys have is one another. Kobe's game, still rife with an endless repertoire of scoring tricks, is more polished than ever. LeBron has been a wunderkind since entering the league, but this season has taken his entire game to a new level. That he did so after playing with Bryant (and Wade) in the Olympics is no coincidence. (Of course, LeBron also recently underwent Lasik surgery.  How he played pseudo blind is a miracle itself. Maybe that's why he hasn't won an MVP or championship.)

It was Magic who said Bird motivated him to improve every off-season. It was Magic who called Bird the greatest basketball player ever. Russell said the same about Wilt. Kobe, LeBron and even Wade are playing as well as any perimeter players since a bald, tongue-wagging Chicago shooting guard dominated the league during the Clinton years.

What is there not to enjoy on a variety of levels?

All three are "video game" good. The league and the stars themselves are most elevated when they all succeed. Every fan and general manager would love even the third-best of the sport's terrific triumvirate. It's time for less vitriol and a little more love in the “who's the best” debates.


Photo:  LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Credit: Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI