When LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003, he was the new sensation. An 18-year-old kid coming straight out of high school that is ready to show his talents at the professional stage. He had already signed a huge Nike contract before he even stepped foot on the NBA court and was receiving an insane amount of national attention.
While all of this was going on, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were still the most dominant team in the NBA. Fresh off of a three-peat, Kobe was already being compared to Michael Jordan and being hailed as currently the best player in the game.
Things began to fall apart a bit after the rape accusation and the split up between him and Shaq, as Kobe and the Lakers had a tough time finding any team success for the next few years.
Even through the turmoil, Kobe continued to prove himself as the best individual player in the NBA by breaking multiple scoring records and doing things like scoring 81 points in one game. All while, the new generation like Wade, Melo, and LeBron were making a name for themselves.
I don’t know about other Laker fans, but I did not have a problem with LeBron or anyone else for that matter until the unthinkable happened. In the 07-08 season, LeBron started being compared to Kobe Bryant, while some were saying that he may even be better. This is when the beef started between Kobe and LeBron fans. This is when insults began to fly from both sides about both players. 2007 is when Kobe vs. LeBron started. So let’s take a look at what happened from here.
After a shocking trip to the NBA Finals, where the Cavs were swept by the Spurs, LeBron came back the next season showing very dominant individual talent. He did things like become the youngest person to 10,000 points (Kobe’s previous mark). Against the Knicks, he scored 50 points and gained 10 assists. He also recorded a triple double in back to back games.
Many NBA fans who used to argue that guys like T-Mac, Iverson, and Vince Carter were better than Kobe found their new guy. He was their new savior in a sense. They found another guy to rival the best player in the NBA, who they never liked.
The playoffs arrived and LeBron again proved his individual talent, forcing the newly formed Big Three, Boston Celtics into a game 7 where he scored 45 points, but the Cavaliers came up short, while everyone told LeBron, “There’s always next year.”
As for Kobe? He became the youngest player to reach 20,000 points. He played with a broken finger instead of opting for surgery. He won the MVP award and was the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA team. The Lakers finished with the best record in the Western Conference.
In the very first game of these playoffs, Kobe scored 18 points in the final 8 minutes against the Denver Nuggets which eventually led to a sweep. They also defeated the Jazz and the Spurs, making it to the NBA Finals, where they also lost to the Boston Celtics in a grueling series. Kobe averaged 30.1 points per game during these playoffs and made it to the 5th Finals appearance of his NBA Career.
Man did things start heating up between Kobe and LeBron fans or what during this season. LeBron won his first MVP award this year and led his team in every statistical category. The Cavaliers also had the best record in the entire NBA.
The playoffs came and a fire was lit under the Kobe vs. LeBron debate. We even got to see hilarious puppet commercials from Nike that mostly showed Kobe taunting LeBron with the three cookies (rings) he has.
Also during these playoffs, Kenny Smith stated on TNT that if LeBron truly wants to be better than the great Kobe Bryant, he has to do it NOW! He cannot wait until Kobe Bryant is out of his prime to start winning rings and making a case for himself in this very heated debate. Hmm?
The Cavs made it to the Eastern Semi Finals, but questions about LeBron started to rise when they fell short to the Orlando Magic. Many people questioned LeBron’s hunger and ultimate output during the games that they lost in this series. After being eliminated in Game 6, LeBron walked off of the court without shaking hands with anybody.
As for Kobe? He continued to prove why he is the best player in the game during this season. He did things like score 61 points in Madison Square Guarden, which was the most points ever scored in that arena. The Lakers finished once again with the best record in the Western Conference, while Kobe set his eyes on winning his first championship without Shaq.
He did just that as the Lakers defeated the same Orlando team that beat the Cavs. He earned the NBA Finals MVP while averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds. He made it all the way back to the top and proved to the World that he could win without Shaq.
If you were on the Kobe side of this debate, you were obviously winning. Kobe now had 4 championships to Lebron’s 0. Kobe made it to the NBA Finals two straight years in a row, while LeBron failed to show up for the big show down. The Kobe vs. LeBron finals was just supposed to happen. It was inevitable.
Many claimed that Lebron needed some help so the Cavs went out and got it. They added Shaq who infamously stated that he was going to, “bring a ring to the King” and added guys like Antawn Jamison to their roster. The Cavs achieved the best record in the NBA for the second straight year, while James won NBA MVP once again.
Then the playoffs came and LeBron came up short once again to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. In Game 5, he shot 20% from the field while only attempting 14 shots. While being eliminated in Game 6, he shot 38% from the field and had 9 turnovers. This ended up being his last game as a Cavalier.
As for Kobe? During the regular season, Kobe made 6 game-winning shots. He again suffered an injury to his index finger, but elected to play through it. He became the youngest player ever to reach 25,000 points. The Lakers finished with the best record in the Western Conference for the third straight season.
The playoffs arrived and Kobe continued his dominance once again. He even gained 13 assists against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals, which was the most for a Laker since Magic Johnson (so much for him being a ball hog). The Lakers also went on to have a historic 7 game series with the Celtics who were the same team that defeated the Cavs. The Lakers came back from a 13 point deficit in Game 7 and Kobe won his 5th championship and second consecutive NBA Finals MVP.
Feeling like he could no longer compete with teams like the Celtics or the Lakers, LeBron chose to leave his hometown and join forces with D-Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
The debate was officially over. There were no more puppet commercials. Kobe showed up to the Finals three straight years, while LeBron fell short every single season. It was like a fight that was supposed to happen at the playground after school, but one of the kids refused to show up once the bell rang. Kobe had already made it to the finals 7 times in his NBA career, while winning 5 championships. LeBron still had 0.
This is the moment that what Kenny Smith said in 2008 came to life. LeBron didn’t do it. He didn’t make it to the big dance so he chose to create a super team. Kobe is now 34-years-old and has obviously lost a step. The comparison is no longer valid these days. If the Lakers face the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, it will be more about the Lakers vs. the Heat instead of Kobe vs. LeBron, which we would have gotten from 2007-2010.
The only person that Kobe Bryant can be compared to at this point in his career are those who came before him. He is currently chasing the legacy of the great Michael Jordan and attempting to make a case for being the greatest to ever lace up his shoes.
LeBron’s current comparisons should only be guys like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, or even his own teammate, Dwyane Wade. They are all apart of the new generation and still trying to cement their legacy. How could you compare these guys to a legacy that has already been cemented?
So in 2012, when LeBron fans are still saying to Laker fans that he is better than Kobe Bryant, smile and take it as a compliment. All that this means is that in a league full of young athletic freaks of nature, 34-year-old, 17 year veteran, Kobe Bryant is still extremely relevant.