From 2007-2010, the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James debate raged on with a ferocity that could not be tamed. I personally partook in my fair-share of verbal warfare on Facebook status’ and other social media outlets, spewing out verbiage that refuted others’ claims of James supplanting Bryant as the games then best player.
“LeBron’s the best huh?! Then why is he sitting at home in June when it really matters??” Please excuse my 8th and 9th grade self, as I was so caught up in the Kobe fanfare that I deflected anything and anyone that attempted to dethrone him as the mantle.
As both men waged war on their respective conference’s, it appeared as if this great-debate would be settled once and for all with a clash between the two titans on the grandest stage of them all: the NBA Finals.
In 2008 both James and Bryant were casualties of the Boston Celtics and their “Big Three,” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, but in 2009 it looked as if we were slated for the matchup that not only hoops-heads, but sports fans everywhere yearned for.
The Lakers finished the regular season 65-17, and looked to avenge their devastating defeat to the Celtics by clinching their first championship since 2002, when Kobe, flanked by Shaq and other reliable veteran talent, crushed Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets 4-0.
LeBron was coming off a regular season campaign in which he clinched an MVP award, and was looking to finally get the Cavaliers over the playoff hump and into the championship circle. The LeBron/Kobe Finals matchup in 2009 seemed inevitable, until Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic discarded of James and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, taking the series 4-2.
James rues that occurrence till this day, and he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com that he’s the one to blame for the superstar showdown never coming to fruition.
“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain in 2009 for the fans, for us, to meet in the Finals,” James said Tuesday, looking back on the 2008-09 season when his Cleveland Cavaliers led the league with a 66-16 record and Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers were right behind him at 65-17. “I know the world wanted to see it. I wanted it, we wanted it. He held up his end and I didn’t hold up my end, and I hate that. I hate that that didn’t happen.”
“Obviously there was so much made about it, from commercials to media talk, to people just talking about the Lakers versus the Cavs, Kobe versus LeBron, Kobe versus LeBron, Kobe versus LeBron, but I couldn’t do that to my teammates to kind of assume,” James said. “That’s not my job. I’ve seen the stat that since ’07 either he has or I’ve been in the Finals but we’ve never matched up. And that definitely sucks. Not only for us two being competitors, wanting to go against each other in the Finals, but also for the fans.”
Bryant and the Lakers would go on to dispatch of the Magic in five games, awarding Bryant his fourth NBA championship while James was forced to sit at home and spectate. Just add this matchup to the lengthy list of “what if’s” that basketball fans have compiled throughout the years. It would’ve been amusing to see two all-time greats duke it out for NBA supremacy, but with Bryant headed toward’s retirement, it’s now nothing more than a pipe dream.
But hey, at least we got some kickass Nike commercials featuring the two players as puppets. Damn I miss the good ol’ days.