Kobe vs. LeBron… This match-up has dominated NBA conversations for the better part of a decade now. Last night’s thrilling Cleveland Cavalier victory over the Los Angeles Lakers gave us a chance to reflect on some of the best games played between these sure first-ballot future Hall of Famers. The debates over who’s greater have long forced fans of one to despise fans of the other. It’s time to appreciate both of these living legends for what they’ve brought to the game on all fronts. Although we never got to witness the dream NBA Finals battle between the two, their 20 Regular Season clashes gave us plenty to go off of. LeBron’s teams have won 14 of the 20 contests. However, one must acknowledge that LeBron has had the better supporting cast in the majority of those matchups, particularly in Miami as well as this second stint in Cleveland. LeBron’s averages over those games: 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.2 AST, .463 FG%. Kobe’s averages: 25 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 AST, .422 FG%. During their career overlaps, LeBron has 4 MVP’s to Kobe’s 1, both players are tied on 2 rings as well as 2 Finals MVP Awards, Kobe has 2 Scoring Titles to LeBron’s 1. With Kobe staring Father Time in the face, and stuck on a very lousy team, it’s safe to say that the proverbial Torch has been passed for good. Last night, fans of both stars got to see a lighter side to the rivalry; one that started when LeBron was lacing his shoes up for St. Vincent St. Mary’s in High School. Legend has it that Kobe, Shaq and many other NBA stars of the time, would trek all the way to Akron, Ohio to watch the Chosen One that they anointed King. Kobe even gave LeBron a customized pair of his signature shoes to rock during a televised game.
Fast Forward to 2003, LeBron James is drafted #1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kobe is at a career crossroads, vying to vindicate himself amidst the Sexual Assault charge he got in Colorado. His relationship with Shaq is deteriorating quickly, and he’s between companies as far as his endorsements go. LeBron is the new favorite son, the player who’s supposed to one up Kobe Bryant in every category period. For the next 8 years, Kobe would tighten his grip on the crown. Vitamin Water Commercials and Nike Puppets ads only heighten the intense battle between the two. LeBron’s MVP’s add fuel to Kobe’s never-ending fire. Kobe would rally off two more rings before LeBron finally lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2012. Two Olympic Gold Medals would be the only time Kobe and LeBron would grace the biggest stage simultaneously. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are more alike than we ever wanted to believe. Both play the game the right way, on their own terms. No compromise. Both transcended the way athletes are marketed. No college degree was necessary for these two to thrive in a man’s world. We’re always taught that there needs to be a villain to every hero, thus in order to like one guy you must hate the other and so forth. Who’s who???
The Kobe Bean Bryant-LeBron Raymone James rivalry has been one of the most riveting in sports. Kobe and LeBron on the surface are polar opposites; Kobe the cold blooded Michael Jordan like Killer, while LeBron is the team first, happy go lucky guy who shares the wealth. Both have captivated the game in ways never before seen, with a vast and different array of skills. Both have a cult following. Both have tempted to do the ultimate faux-pas when it comes to basketball, tug at the cape of the aforementioned G.O.A.T. none other than Michael Jeffrey Jordan. The NBA hasn’t seen a rivalry quite like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant’s. Unlike Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson/Larry Bird before them, they never went at it for 7 games. That is the only pitfall of this great, GREAT rivalry. Other than that, each regular season game between these two was must see TV. With Kobe’s legacy almost set in stone, it’s imperative we take a step aside and appreciate this rivalry for everything it was and everything it will mean 10, 15, 20 years from now. If you weren’t along for the ride… Shame on You