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It's LeBron James' NBA Now, and Kobe Bryant's Just Living in It

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It's LeBron James' NBA Now, and Kobe Bryant's Just Living in It
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Following his Miami Heat's victory over Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers on January 17, it's clear that LeBron James' domination of the Black Mamba will never stop. As Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post noted on Twitter, following the game, James is now 12-6 in his career against the five-time champion.

As much as we may not want to admit it, Bryant is no longer the alpha dog of the NBA. That title now belongs to James, who has gotten more All-Star votes each of the past few years and is closing the gap between himself and Bryant, this year's leading vote-getter.

 

Just how much the All-Star voting numbers have changed between Bryant and James in one year shows how much fans are gravitating towards the reigning MVP. Last season, Bryant received 194,799 more votes than James.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
James is starting to take over the league, and his catching up to Bryant in All-Star votes shows it

This year, that number shrank to 7,791.

That isn't to say that Bryant isn't as good of a player as James anymore. In fact, some would still argue that the man is, in fact, better.

Besides his five championship rings, Bryant has many other accomplishments on his NBA resume. He has played in a record 15 All-Star Games, won two scoring titles to go with an MVP trophy, and he has also been named to nine All-Defensive First Teams.

With career averages of 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game, it's clear that Kobe Bryant is going to the Hall of Fame some day. Those numbers are excellent for a shooting guard, and make him a truly unique player.

However, how many people besides die-hard Lakers or NBA fans know of Kobe Bryant's skills outside of scoring points? Even in watching him today, he seems to prefer doing that to using his supreme athleticism to create plays for the rest of his teammates, though that just may be the fact that the Lakers overly rely on him to carry them offensively.

Kobe Bryant in playmaking mode, something he rarely uses anymore

No matter how you look at it, Kobe Bryant is part of a fading generation. He is the old school scorer, a la Michael Jordan. He has an excellent overall skillset, but scoring points is his primary forte.

LeBron James is completely unlike that. His best-known skill is his scoring, but he does so much more than that. This season alone, he is averaging a career-best 8.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists to go with his 26.3 points.

LeBron James is the new generation of scorer, one that does more than just put points on the board for himself

Granted, James is a small forward and is 6'8", 250 pounds compared to Bryant, a shooting guard who is 6'6", 205, but the difference in their approaches is unbelievable. Rather than just score points and try to put up 30-plus a night, James gets his teammates involved and looks like a better overall player because of it.

This style of play is turning into the new generation of scorers. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant has led the league in scoring each of the past three seasons, but has shown more and more of a commitment to defense and team play in each of his NBA seasons.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Players like Bryant are fading away, and those like James and Kevin Durant are stepping into the spotlight

Even scoring point guards are starting to make a huge impact, with players like Russell Westbrook ranking at or near the top in both points and assists per game.

As a result, the league belongs to players like James and those of his current generation. Bryant is still in the picture, but he is more like Arthur Spooner on the hit TV show The King of Queens and not so much Seinfeld. He ran the show at one point, but now just lives in the house of another man.

That isn't to say that James' overall success against Bryant means that the Black Mamba is getting phased out of the league. The 16-year veteran currently leads the NBA in scoring with 29.7 points per game, and that's impressive for someone 34 years old.

Bryant can do more than just score points, and we have all seen him work his passing or defensive magic at some point or another.

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Just the same, the league does not belong to him anymore. It's fun to watch him do what he does best, but not when his supremely stacked Los Angeles Lakers have so much trouble winning games.

The fact of the matter is that today's generation of stars are defined by their unique skillsets. They can score points and wow the fans in doing so, but they are also known for branching out of that zone to create plays and also provide top-notch defense.

Seeing as how James has the privilege of playing with two of the best in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, their presence allows him to be the league's best all-around player. The NBA is now his for the taking, and he won't be relinquishing control any time soon.

The crazy part is that Bryant had the audacity to tell ESPN's Chris Palmer just who he thought would win in a 1-on-1 game between himself and James.

 

Me. No question. As far as one-on-one, I’m the best to ever do it. 

 

Well, Bryant had to eat his words on January 17. Miami's first four baskets were show-stopping dunks, and then James went into assassination mode in the fourth quarter en route to a Miami victory. Bryant finished with 22 points on 8 of 25 shooting, while James had 39 while making 17 of 25 shots to go with seven boards and eight assists.

Bryant may think that he is still the NBA's top dog, but the Lakers' game against the Heat should serve as a wakeup call. The league now belongs to James and his generation of players, and it's time for Bryant to either join the flock or slowly fade into the background in the twilight of his career.

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