There is no argument that between them, they represent the two elite competitors in the NBA. The only question is who is better. Allow me to make my case for why I believe LeBron James is the premiere basketball player on the planet.
6. The Attention Received By Their Pending Free Agency.
In the summer of 2004, Kobe Bryant was slated to become a free agent.
There was exactly one team, besides the Lakers, who showed interest. That was the Los Angeles Clippers. It should be mentioned that this was when the economy was healthy and booming. Perhaps you've heard that this coming summer, LeBron James' contract expires. Despite financial struggles, some franchises (New York, Chicago, New Jersey, LA Clippers) have dealt away a good quantity of their roster just for the chance to offer LeBron $125 million dollars.
A dozen other teams have made moves to clear enough salary for the same reason. Never before has so much wheeling and dealing taken place in an effort to attain the services of one player. Fans, analysts, and general managers have been talking about 'The LeBron Summer' for two calendar years.
5. LeBron is Already Shattering Kobe's Scoring Milestones
On March 4, 2003, Kobe Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history score 10,000 points. He was 24 years, 193 days old when he accomplished that feat. On February 27, 2008, LeBron James made that record his own. And he was 23 years, 59 days old. Kobe would then go on to become the youngest player to score 15,000 points. He was 27 years, 136 days at the time of completion. James seized that mark as well, doing so a full two years before Kobe did. LeBron was 25 years, 79 days old.
4. The Notion That Kobe is a Better Scorer is a Myth
Kobe Bryant is the holder of two NBA scoring titles. He led the league in 2005-06 and 2006-07. LeBron James has won the NBA scoring title only once, in 2007-08. However LeBron James career scoring average is an extravagant 27.8, while Kobe boasts a career scoring average of 25.3. Obviously both are top-notch, but the statistics support the argument that LeBron James scores more.
While we're on the subject, LeBron James also scores his points more efficiently. James' career field goal percentage is 47.5, in contrast to Kobe's career percentage of 45.5.
3. LeBron James is Younger and Already Has More MVP Trophies
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, LeBron James is going to hoist the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy. Kobe Bryant has one Most Valuable Player Award to his merit in 14 years of NBA service. LeBron just completed his 7th season and already has two. Not a lot for Kobe Bryant supporter's to argue here....
2. If Kobe and LeBron Switched Teams...
With February's addition of Antawn Jamison to the Cavaliers and the off-season trade for Shaq, LeBron's supporting cast is starting to resemble what Kobe's has been like for a healthy portion of his career.
For years, LeBron James has turned a conglomerate of lesser players into winners, as evidence by his career winning percentage of .644%. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant once had a season in his prime (2004-05) where he didn't make the playoffs, just one year after reaching the NBA Finals. This is purely speculation, but could you imagine what LeBron James would be capable of if he played alongside Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest? I think 70 wins would be a reasonable proposition every season. The Lakers mustered only 57 wins in 2009-10.
Imagining Kobe Bryant on the Cavaliers is an interesting prospect. There would be question marks immediately about whether Kobe could even get along with his teammates. Everyone is familiar with he and Shaq's checkered history. The Cavs would clearly still be a playoff team, but I don't think they'd have won 66 games last year or 61 games this season, as they did with LeBron running the show.
1. LeBron James Makes His Teammates Better. Kobe Does Not.
In 2007, LeBron James carried Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas & Larry Hughes all the way to the NBA Finals. LeBron's gaudy 7.0 assists per game average for his career speaks directly to his ability to not only get his (lesser) teammates involved, but to make them better as well. Players such as Donyell Marshall, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes & Damon Jones would go on to other teams and not thrive as they did when they played with James.
Name me one player that LeBron James couldn't play with. His game is so multi-dimensional that if he played with another scorer (think Dwyane Wade or Kevin Durant), he could be the facilitator. If he played with an elite point guard (think Jason Kidd or Steve Nash), he could be the dominant scoring threat. LeBron would make the necessary adjustments. Kobe Bryant wouldn't. Imagine how Kobe Bryant would fare alongside Dwyane Wade. (Hint: Not well.) Bryant's history indicates that he doesn't get along well with players who would rival his scoring. (J.R. Rider, Glen Rice, Shaq)
Conversely, Kobe Bryant was never able to win a single series without the aid of an elite big man playing alongside him. From 2004 when Shaq left until 2007 when Pau was acquired, the Kobe led Lakers missed the playoffs entirely in 2004-05. Then in 2005-06, the Lakers lost to the Suns despite being up 3-1. And in 2006-07, LA again lost to the Suns in the first round. In his defense, Kobe's career assists is a solid 4.7 per game.
Two additional side notes: I can't recall LeBron James ever publicly berating a teammate, especially on national television. Can't say the same for the Black Mamba. When Kobe gets frustrated, he will throw a teammate under the bus like no other. Pau Gasol was quoted as saying, "I think the ball has got to move more."
I wonder who that's referring to.
I recognize that Kobe Bryant is a once in a generation talent. His work ethic is among the best the NBA has ever seen. His résumé is among the most pristine of anyone to ever lace them up. He is one of the best scorers to ever play, and has 4 NBA Championships. But LeBron James may go down as the single greatest to ever play.
It isn't because LeBron jumps higher, dunks harder, blocks more shots, or whips prettier passes (although he does all those things better than Kobe), it's because LeBron James doesn't have any notable weaknesses.
Ideally his jump shot, particularly his three, could improve. But the guy is the complete package. He always makes the right play. He isn't a ball-hog. He's an outstanding teammate. He can score. He can rebound. He can assist. He can defend (and actually does, unlike Kobe who takes the easiest assignment on defense routinely. If you don't believe me, watch the playoffs and tell me how often he guards Kevin Durant, or Brandon Roy, or LeBron James, etc.). He can legitimately play anywhere from the point guard to the power forward on the court. He's a leader. He's single handedly changed the culture in Cleveland. He wins. And this season, after he claims his first NBA Championship, LeBron haters won't be able to point to the one thing Kobe has on him at this point.
Pundits have contrasted Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan, and I think that is fair in a lot of respects. I believe that LeBron embodies elements of Michael, Magic and Bird. It's like Jay-Z once famously rapped, "If you haven't heard, I'm Michael Magic and Bird, all rolled in one...".