NBA

Why Derrick Rose Will Be Better Than Both Kobe and LeBron

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls goes up for a dunk against Mario Chalmers #15, Udonis Haslem #40 and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat in the first half of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2011 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJanuary 25, 2012

Derrick Rose will be better than both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Let that statement settle into your palate.

How does it feel? Enticing? Confusing? A little bit dirty?

I agree.

Welcome to the world's most ridiculous argument—the one we shouldn't be having, but cannot avoid.

We should know better than to couch Derrick Rose's blossoming career in historical terms. Just let the dude play basketball, right? He doesn't need any validation beyond next week. He's a kid.

Too bad it doesn't work that way. Too bad we're always projecting, never savoring in this rapacious sports culture of ours. Too bad next year's top 25 comes out the day after the national championship.

As soon as Derrick Rose became the youngest player in NBA history to win the league's MVP award, he entered into this conversation. There's no way out for him or us.

Rose exceeded every other ceiling set for him. Now he's in the "big picture" talk against his greatest contemporaries.

Start with the things Derrick Rose will never be.

He will never be 6'8".

He will never average eight rebounds a game.

He will (likely) never win five championships.

He will never be his team's go-to defensive stopper.

Derrick Rose is 6'3" and he plays point guard. A side-by-side statistical comparison with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will not flatter him.

Luckily for Rose, basketball greatness cares less about that than any other form of sports greatness.

Never have I heard someone disavow Ted Williams' hitting prowess on the grounds that he never won the World Series.

And yet there it is in the first line of Charles Barkley's NBA resume (and probably Patrick Ewing's obituary): "never won it all."

Basketball takes it even a step further than that. Basketball wants to know not only if you won a championship, but how you won it and who was by your side.

That is the crux of Rose's case for superiority.

He can still make it to the mountaintop alone. Kobe Bryant never got that chance. LeBron James abandoned it.

Because Kobe and LeBron play(ed) with such celebrated teammates, their legacy has an impenetrable outer bound.

Sure, we'll remember Kobe and his five championships, but we'll also remember Kobe in 2005-06. That year represented an odd symmetry in Kobe Bryant's career, a sort of simultaneous apex and nadir.

As a basketball player, Kobe was never better. He was 27 and at the height of his basketball prime. He averaged 35.4 points per game, posted a 28 PER and registered the highest usage rate of his career.

All the things we most associate with Kobe's style of play—dogged defense, assassin offense, total spatial control—reached full clarity and maturity that year.

And yet Kobe's team was never worse. They went 45-37 and exited in the first round of the playoffs.

Kobe had interior talent around him, but that's the point. Kobe Bryant at his very best couldn't take a replacement-level team past the second round of the playoffs. Ultimate Kobe, by himself, was a 45-win player.

Many of the same arguments apply in various shades to LeBron's years in Cleveland. LeBron went further than Kobe, but he ended up well short of total validation.

Rose doesn't have those retainers on his career, at least not yet.

And based on his early success—neither Kobe nor LeBron had won a game in the Conference Finals by their third year—I expect he will win between one and three championships in Chicago.

It's a prediction, but more than even that, it's a possibility.

The very best Derrick Rose can do more than the very best LeBron James or the very best Kobe Bryant ever could.

That's where Derrick Rose can take this argument in the future. That's the place where this ridiculous notion can find consent.

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