LeBron James became the best basketball player in the world, when he single-handily beat the Pistons in Detroit in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. From that point until last season, you could still argue Kobe Bryant was the best player in the world. You would say LeBron, I would say Kobe, you say tomato, I say tomato. Either way you couldn't go wrong, the whole 1A, 1B thing.
To put forth an analogy, for a while in tennis you had Federer and Nadal, Nadal and Federer, but after seeing the results of the most recent Australian Open, it's pretty clear Rafael Nadal is the best tennis player in the world. Granted that's a literal 1-on-1 sport, but hopefully you can see my point.
In the NBA it has gotten to the point that LeBron James is without question or shadow of a doubt, the best basketball player in the free-world (and seeing how dominant he is and the freakish, out-of-this-world body he possesses, he will stay that way for another decade or so.)
Kobe is ridiculous, 81 points in a game, 50 in four straight, and most recently breaking Michael Jordan's hallowed Madison Square Garden record of points in a single game with 61. Yes, he's pretty special. But if you take the logic glasses out, he's still not as good as LeBron James.
Just look at their two most recent games at the Garden. Kobe with 61 points, zero rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Meanwhile. LeBron went for 52 points, 9 boards, 12 dimes, and two blocks (both in the fourth quarter.) The King had the more complete game, he did more for his team on both ends of the floor, and it was against the exact same team within a matter of two days, so there is nothing tricky to figure out in terms of comparison.
In case you're wondering LeBron, who only has five years in the association, already has more career triple-doubles than Kobe, a 12-year veteran. He also already has more triple-doubles this season than Kobe has had since 2005.
Now the one thing Kobe obviously has on LeBron is that Kobe is the better shooter. Don't get this twisted, I said shooter, not scorer because at this point in time, that edge would go to LeBron. James won the scoring title last season, and hasn't been outscored by Bryant since the 2006-'07 season, with Kobe lagging behind James and the league leading Dwayne Wade this season.
So in saying all this, it is not that big of an advantage, because LeBron is now a decent jump shooter and is better than anyone in the NBA at getting to the rim.
While Kobe is the better shooter, that is really the only biological advantage he has on LeBron now, with LeBron's vast improvement on the defensive end. James has been better at passing the basketball since he came out of St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School, and the only real edges Kobe still has are in the little things people nit-pick about.
Like that Kobe's a better foul shooter (LeBron isn't average or mediocre at the line anymore, he is now floating around 80 percent,) or he's better down the stretch of games (not by that much though, LeBron has more post-season game-winners than Kobe does, and Kobe is more than five years older than LeBron,) etc.
If you just look at the two guys straight out, LeBron is just better. And if you want to take this further, looking at the way Dwyane Wade has played this season, and in seasons past when he has been healthy, a closer argument would be between Wade and Bryant. Even looking at Wade's championship going against Kobe's zero rings as the best player on his basketball team.
This season, Wade is averaging more points than Kobe. Well all that means is Kobe has such a good team now he only has to turn it on when he has to, right?
Yes that is true, but it's the thing that has put a damper on Kobe's all-around game his entire career which are his assist totals, or lack thereof. Wade is dropping over seven dimes a game this season, while Kobe's right over five a game (Currently, Wade's best scoring threat is a rookie who comes off the bench, while Kobe's sidekick is a seasoned all-star.) Kobe has only averaged six or more assists a game for a season once, during the 2004-'05 season.
Ok, I am not going to go completely off topic and try to argue Wade vs. Kobe, but I brought this up to make this point. Arguing anybody else other than LeBron as the best in the world doesn't make any sense anymore. It really doesn't. In other words, it's time to move on to a new topic because this is a new era.
Kobe isn't done by any stretch of the imagination, the 61 points he put on the Knickerbockers the other night proves that. That even if the Lakers have their young gun in the form of Andrew Bynum, out of their holster, even if it's for the rest of this season (possible deja-vu,) Kobe will make sure the Lakers are still true contenders.
As for LeBron and the new era, his Cavs (jumping to the conclusion that he stays in Ohio for 2010 and beyond,) will be in the championship conversation every single year. I still have trouble grasping the fact that LeBron James is actually a human being since he weighs in at 250-270 pounds, and he runs and handles the ball like a point guard.
Kobe has had his day at the top of the heap, and though it will be much shorter than LeBron's, it was still one heck of a display as the NBA's top dog.