Over the last decade, not a single basketball fan can envision an NBA Finals that did not include Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Lebron James. He is appearing in his ninth straight finals appearance that is only second to the great Bill Russell, and is in a rare space that even Michael Jordan can’t say are one of his many accolades. However, what eludes James is his championship to loss ratio (3-5) when compared to Jordan (6-0). Even though James gets compared to “His Airness” on an almost daily basis, there is one player that deserves not be left out of this debate: Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant, over his twenty-year career, was one of the best shooting guards and players of his generation, but was playing in the shadow of Michael Jordan. When Bryant came into the league in 1996, Jordan and the Bulls were on their way to starting a second three-peat after coming out of retirement. In addition, the Lakers signing Shaquille O’Neal didn’t help him get noticed early on either.
Bryant and James have similar stories; both were high school standouts that decided to skip college and go straight to the pros, but Lebron James was labeling himself as “King James” even before he entered the league, while Kobe was just supposed to be the Scottie Pippen to O’ Neal’s Jordan. While James has dominated the NBA since his 18th birthday, he is trying to accomplish something Kobe Bryant has already done, which is win as the only superstar on his team. In that regard, Bryant has done it twice.
During the O’ Neal/Bryant years, the knock-on Kobe was that he couldn’t win when his other superstar teammate shipped off to Miami. With that, James has encountered that same dilemma after winning the Cavaliers first title, only to have Kyrie Irving force a trade to the Boston Celtics.
It took Kobe Bryant five seasons after O’Neal left to win a title that was completely his own, but he conquered the challenge. During the 2008-09 playoffs, Bryant averaged 30.2 points like James did in the 2011-12 playoffs in Miami, and while James had Wade (22.8) and Bosh (14), Bryant contained Pau Gasol (18.3) and Lamar Odom (12.3). The stats, at this point in their careers, are highly comparable, but the aspect you can’t measure by a simple stat line is “killer instinct”.
What Jordan and Bryant have always possessed is that “kill or be killed” mentality when the championship is on the line. They always wanted the ball in their hands, win or lose, clutch or choke. Most finals games aren’t decided in the first 44 minutes, but that last four are the moments when great players take it upon themselves to will their teams to victory.
No one is denying that Lebron James almost averaging a triple double in almost every playoff game is impressive, but he constantly puts the games in other teammates hands when it’s time to ice the game. He has tried to do it his own way by building the team the way he wants it because he believes he knows best; but sometimes it’s best to just focus on playing basketball.
It would be great to see Lebron James play under a solid head coach, but he has it in his mind that he’s gotten this far, why change? James will go down in history as the greatest player of his generation, but when it comes to Jordan and Kobe, nice guys do finish last.