The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Mano e Mano, Kobe and LeBron

Posted by Blake Murphy on January 28, 2008

Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers was more than just a game. ABC pushed it as such, pushed it as such, and now, is pushing it as such as well. It wasn’t Lakers vs. Cavaliers so much as it was Kobe vs. LeBron, a clash of two superstars and a clash of basketball fans everywhere.

Where you stand on the Kobe or LeBron debate really doesn’t say much about you as a basketball fan, as much as I’d love to be able to push this discussion as something divisive and controversial. But “LeBron or Kobe” really is an interesting decision fans have to make. You just can’t sit on the fence and concede that they are the two best players in the league, based on talent and performance. So where do you stand?
LeBron or Kobe?

Do you prefer a man who has lead a supporting cast that has Ira Newble in the starting lineup to an Eastern Conference Championship? As a superstar LeBron is everything you could ask for. He is a leader on the floor, a media mogul off the court, and is the single most talented player the league has seen since He Who Shall Not Be Compared. Just 23 years of age, LeBron is putting up numbers the league hasn’t seen in decades, a disgusting 29.6-7.6-7.4-2-1.1, a line so complete and efficient (48% shooting) that it is difficult to appreciate just how incredible it really is. LeBron has improved as a defender, scores at will, and gets the most out of a supporting cast best described as naked. The only knock left against LeBron is his 3-point shooting, a terrible 29.3% clip.

Or do you prefer a man with three NBA Championship rings and who is the best active player to never win the MVP award? As a superstar, Kobe is everything you could ask for. He adjusts his game to get more out of those around him, he is as dedicated to winning as they come, and he is one of the most gifted players to ever put hands to a Spalding. Still just 29, Kobe is putting up his usual 27.7-6-5.1-2, a line so complete and efficient (45% shooting, 35% on threes, 85% from the line) that people forget he might also be the best defensive player in the league. The knock on Kobe in the past has been his ability to play on a team with no talent, but nobody can argue that he has stretched the most out of Trevor Ariza, Kwame Brown, Vlad Rad, Jordan Farmar, and Lamar Odom’s worst career season while expediting Andrew Bynum’s development as well.Despite starting the year slow, the Cavaliers have heated up and find themselves at 23-19 now, a popular pick to take the last home-court seed in the East playoff picture. LeBron ranks 8th in the league in assists on a team lacking shooters, puts up great rebounding numbers on a team with one of the best rebounding front courts in the East, and scores more than any other player in the league. LeBron is a clutch scorer at the end of games and has finally developed the mean streak that was lacking in previous seasons. Late in games LeBron looks motivated and ready to pounce, dominating any and all defenders, stepping up his D, and not being afraid to take the final shot…or final five shots.Kobe had the Lakers running out of the gate and they find themselves at 27-14, just three games out of the West’s top spot, a position nobody expected this team to be in. The team hasn’t faltered with the Bynum and Ariza injuries as much as people expected (yet) and Kobe seems poised to keep this team afloat alone until Bynum can return in early March. There is no need to get into detail about Kobe’s late game heroics and decisively devastating late-game demeanor, a part of his game that is unrivalled in the entire sports universe. Kobe has no problem taking every shot (see: 81 points) or scoring just 10, but his biggest improvement as a player has come in his willingness to trust his teammates to share his burden.

So Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a leaky roof and a ho-hum ABC broadcast where nobody would opine for certain which superstar is truly The Man, LeBron and the Cavs won, 98-95. As expected, it was a story of two superstars. James played what might have been his best game of the season, shooting 16 of 32 en route to 41 points, nine rebounds, and four assits. The King took 37% of his teams shots and more than half their free throws, a truly dominant performance. Kobe played 43 minutes despite Phil Jackson’s bizarre strategy of keeping him on the bench for a key fourth quarter stretch (the announcers chalked it up to long-term team building…whatever), and poured in 33 points with a season-high 12 rebounds and six assists on equally efficient shooting. Kobe trusted his teammates a little more than LeBron, taking just 29% of his team’s shots and just shy of half their free throws. The two megastars went back and forth down the stretch, too, trading baskets and key steals, guarding each other for the first time all game.

The key to the game wasn’t necessarily in the numbers though. Yes, both men played at levels superior to what even their statistics would predict, but they rarely covered each other and there was no jawing off or trash talking evident. There weren’t any friendly smiles or laughs, either. It was a game played as team vs. team on the backdrop of star vs. star. In the end, with the Lakers down three with nine seconds to go, the play drawn up by Coach Jackson failed to produce a shot attempt for Mamba or anyone else, and that was that. For the second time this year and the sixth time in nine career meetings, LeBron defeated Kobe. With five straight wins LeBron would appear the favorite in this debate, but an ESPN poll this morning still sees Kobe take 53% of the head-to-head vote.

But the outcome of a single game cannot sway you in favor of one player or the other. Every basketball fan inherently prefers one to the other. You may prefer LeBron’s physical abilities, his unprecedented potential, his lack of a ceiling, and his potential as the cornerstone of many championship teams in the future. Or, you may prefer Kobe’s unrelenting demeanor, his dedication to constantly improve and be the best, his incredible fire on the defensive end, and his potential to acquire championship rings for the two fingers still bare on his right hand.

Nobody can hate on either player, not without coming under severe ire from anyone who has ever watched a game. Nobody will think less of you for supporting The King or Black Mamba. It is a decision that is entirely personal and largely irrelevant, though we just can’t concede they are equals. There is no way to decide for sure when one player is better than another, especially when it is the two best players in the league. The choice is up for debate constantly and is as subjective a question as there is.

But maybe there is hope for closure yet. With the Cavs, armed with the most gifted player in the league, having proved they can win the East and with the Lakers, armed with one of the best playoff players and coaches ever, sitting close to the top of the West, maybe we’ll be treated to this debate again in June for two weeks…for seven games…with everything on the line.

8 Responses to “Mano e Mano, Kobe and LeBron”

  1. Erik Says:

    Why was Kobe on the bench in the last 4 minutes? If I remember correctly, the Cavs ran up 6 straight points and that proved to be the difference.

  2. Queen's Says:

    I think Jackson just wanted to prove a point that it’s his team and in the words of Eric Cartman “he does what he wants”

  3. H to the Isso Says:

    I cant lie, I’m a Lebron boy myself. His playoff performance against the Pistons last season, was one of the single greatest I have ever seen. It doesn’t hurt that he is tearing it up for my Fantasy team as well.
    I don’t think it is possible to pick one over the other, as the better player though. Both players carry their teams on a nightly basis and are the guys you want taking the last shot.
    If the raps can’t make it to the finals, I am hoping for a Laker/Cavs matchup instead!

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    Hey just wanted to clarify poor wording choice regarding Kobe’s playing time in the 4th quarter. He wasn’t on the bench for the last 4 minutes, but for a key stretch from roughly the 8 minute mark to the 4 minute mark while the Cavs went on a run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

    Also, guys, I love all the pseudonyms…show-time, queen’s, h to the isso, JRD, it’s good stuff :). Please keep the feedback/discussion coming.

  5. TSmith Says:

    I was going to submit my full thoughts on this, but my stance is so obvious that a deft guy could hear it coming a mile away…

    Having said that:

    Black Mamba Kantana; Hunt him or be hunted.

    LeBron fans can come talk to me when he makes even ONE All-Defensive team. Basketball is a two-way sport ladies and gents and as far as I can tell LBJ is essentially Big Papi of the NBA: A total game changer and the most feared and talented competitor in the sport…on one side of the ball.

    Oh, and those three rings (Shaq-assisted or otherwise) will always hold weight.

    Good looking on the article Blake, J.A. is jealous.

  6. Samuel Cassady Says:

    First of all, I LOVE the Cartman reference by ‘queen’s.’

    Second, as Blake said, Kobe was on the floor at the end of the game, as the last play of the game saw Luke Walton throw a pick for Kobe and then Walton get the ball with about 1 second left. Instead of forcing up a shot, Walton PASSED the ball even when it was quite obvious he HAD to shoot the ball or time would expire. The reason why Im bringing this up is because earlier in this game, Walton was being heralded for his superb “basketball IQ,” as the commentator stated Walton’s smarts made up for his lack of talent. Following the game, no one said a word about Walton’s blunder. If a black player made the same mistake, I guarantee the play would have been called a “terrible mental error.” As many of you know, Im not a huge fan of black QBs, etc, but Im also not a fan of white players getting free passes because of their skin colour. But anyways, on to the article…

    After reading the 2nd paragraph, I think I can justifiably sit on the fence. In my basketball world, there are super-stars, and then there are teams. Kobe and Lebron, well they are two-in-the-same: they are both guys who can do everything and will be hands-down Hall of Famers, but they’re also guys who dominate so much that they are both above the ‘team.’ Instead of choosing Lebron or Kobe, I would rather watch Lebron or Kobe vs., say, the Suns, Raptors, Pistons, or even the dreadfully consistent Spurs (to watch either super-star lose to any of those respective teams!). Any time you look at a ‘team’ as being a ‘supporting cast’ as opposed to a team, something is wrong. Sure, Kobe won 2 rings, but everyone seems to forget a guy named Shaq; Kobe didn’t win a ring with just a ‘supporting cast.’

    So, to reiterate, I will sit on the fence cause I really don’t care who is better, I’d rather cheer for something that wins: a team. The only thing that super-stars are good at is selling shoes – and getting cheap all-star votes.

  7. tsmith Says:

    3 Rings, not 2 (and trust me, no one is forgetting about Shaq…ever)

    I see your general point that teams win titles but considering LeBron dragged those same sorry ass teammates of his to the Finals last June, I would say he is good for more than just selling Powerade and Nikes, since in doing so he beat those same all-for-one Pistons you mentioned (and the Suns haven’t made the Finals since 93)

  8. Blake Murphy Says:

    Ya, Walton definately had the basketball equivalent of brain freeze there after father Bill and the rest of the ABC staff had been making him out to be the basketball Einstein all game. Walton is a good role player with good passing skills, sure, but Sam’s right that nobody even noticed that the final play broke down on Walton’s indecisiveness.

    As for the racial aspect, I’ll leave that alone as it’s probably a topic deserving of its own space some time.

    And as for team basketball, ya, leave it to Sam to pick a 3rd option after I emphatically declare there is no way to sit on the fence. I’m a large proponent of team basketball myself (Raptor fan, what up) and it’d be interesting to see how either of these guys fit on a true team where they don’t have the ball in their hands at all times. In this debate though, I’m taking Kobe for the rings (Shaq or not) and the defense.

    People sometimes claim that LeBron is getting more out of less at the moment which is fair, but I think the league forgets that Carlito, Neck Beard, and the Il Na Na make up maybe the best big-man trio on the East and LeBron is just a 3-point shooter away from a good supporting cast.

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