It has finally come to this. The holy alliance of Nike, the media, and the NBA have finally made it—Kobe and LeBron are the only basketball topic available.
After years of pestering discussions on "Jordan vs. Kobe" affairs and of "LeBron is Jordan's heir," which were a clear sign of the nostalgia felt for the golden '90s, basketball fans (well, some of us at least) moved on.
We are now officially in the post-Jordan era.
The fact is Jordan's retirement was not enough for the end of the post-Jordan era, since his shadow was still there. Although MJ left the NBA, the NBA did not want Jordan to go.
Truth is the NBA actually decreased in popularity after Jordan left, at least internationally.
The star that brought the American game to a whole other level was gone and now we were stuck with the humble likes of Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson or the exciting Tim Duncan.
Then came LeBron James, the "Chosen One." A 6'8" 18-year-old forward coming straight out of high school and right into national fame. A freakish athlete who could have easily been a Pro Bowl feature if he had chosen to pursue his football career.
Nike was all over him, the executives were already rubbing their hands waiting for the star who would initiate the post-Jordan era.
LeBron lived up to the hype and last year was definitely his year—although he did not make it to the Finals, truth is leading the Cavs from the dead to playoff highlights is just breathtaking.
Of course, LeBron could not dominate the league on his own. If the NBA learned one thing from the '90s, it is that a fierce rivalry is better for marketing than an all-time legend, that dominates the game by himself.
Kobe was the perfect nemesis—a match made in heaven.
Claimed as being the heir to Jordan's throne—in which he firmly believes—and with four championships under his belt, the Black Mamba was the dominating player in the NBA: the guy that was arrogant, victory-driven, and only focused on being the best at everything.
Back in 2008 the NBA tried to revive the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but the geriatric "Big Three" would not last for long and so the NBA started to focus solemnly on two players that do not dislike each other and whose teams were never in any sort of rivalry.
What makes me sick about the supposed "Kobe-LeBron" rivalry is that the rivalry between their Nike puppets is 10 times more interesting than the actual conflict.
Bryant and James are two guys that get along well. The Lakers never had to dispute for anything against the Cavs. There is nothing that remotely hints to an NBA rivalry in this conflict.
Nonetheless, the hype is all around those two guys.
So, in order to wrap my point of view on the so called rivalry, I will just make two or three statements on the whole Kobe-LeBron thing:
1. Kobe plays in the Western Conference, which is slightly more competitive than the Eastern Conference.
2. LeBron is the only go-to guy in Cleveland—he is obviously their only reliable alternative up on offense. So if LeBron gets injured, I do not fancy the Cavs' chances.
3. Kobe has four rings, LeBron has zero. Until LeBron gets off the NBA-media-Nike-overhype horse, then we can be able to compare him to Kobe Bryant.
Now, what happens is that due to this rivalry, we forget about some great things happening all over the League.
Memphis is over 0.500—and they're seeded as 11th in the Western Conference! The Bobcats and the OKC could get a playoff berth this season! Atlanta could finally become a true contender!
Nonetheless, we are stuck to Christmas games between two players whose egos are being carefully pumped up by the media.
Kobe Bryant may be a basketball great, but where was he before Pau arrived? Where was he before Shaq? Many fans like to label Pau as soft in order to elevate Kobe's role in the Lakers—well, soft guys do not end up in the NBA and you know it.
The fact is Kobe needed an effective big man and there you have it. Gasol arrives and the Lakers reach the finals.
However, that does not diminish Kobe's importance on that roster. Claiming that he isn't fundamental for the Lakers is a sign of sheer ignorance.
LeBron James may be a freakish athlete, but what has he won until now? An MVP award given out because of all the hype around him? Nonetheless, he calls himself the "King."
Where was the King in last year's finals? Until LeBron wins anything in the league, he will only be "The King of His Own Hill", like we say over here in Europe.
The thing is both of these guys give me the creeps. Not only because of their jaw-dropping skills, but because of their arrogant stance.
Over a month ago I watched the Bulls get run over by the Cavs. Last quarter Mike Brown pulls in James—what does the King do? He dances on the court, celebrating the victory.
Of course, as a Bulls fan since my childhood, these things hit even harder, but just think about it for a moment. Did you ever see Jordan dance when he won a match?
Better yet, did you see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu dance when they swept the Cavs in the finals?
Of course you did not. These guys have fair play; they respect their opponent. Even other superstars like Howard or Wade do not humiliate their opponents in such an unsportsmanlike conduct.
Let's not forget about Kobe. Now he is all pumped up, treating himself like a hero, but I still recall the time when the Lakers did not make a decent run in the playoffs not that long ago.
His ego is just too big for the NBA and what irritates me the most is that Kobe Bryant is an excellent player, he excels in every aspect of the game, but he throws all of this away as soon as he gets the "Jordan-copycat" thing going on.
Remember the time when he fell down whilst trying to imitate the legendary "Olajuwon taunt?" Ridiculous.
This attitude is exactly what makes me reach out for my barf bag. The cockiness, the arrogance, and the disregard for your opponent that is showcased by these two superstars.
The sad part is, the league actually encourages this by throwing at Kobe and LeBron every piece of attention that is possible to offer.
It's this kind of undeserved attention, that separates the pre-Jordan from the post-Jordan era.
Now it's all about Kobe and LeBron, but you would hardly say that D-Wade is a worse basketball player. Same thing goes for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony or Steve Nash or Kevin Garnett ad infinitum.
Back then it was all about Jordan, that is correct. Nonetheless, Jordan was/is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time).
However, back in Europe there were a lot of people (including myself) who also tried to follow every other superstar, like the Stockton-Malone duo, the Payton-Kemp duo, Penny Hardaway, Denis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen.
The difference is that nowadays the NBA area in the European media restricts itself to Kobe's broken finger, LeBron's latest dunk, and a list with data on each game of the latest round.
Chris Paul, D-Wade, Dwight Howard? Nothing. It is all Kobe and LeBron and seriously, it makes me sick.