A Finals Education: What LeBron James Can Learn From Kobe Bryant's Success
After watching Kobe Bryant hoist his fifth NBA Championship as a Los Angeles Laker, one thing stood out in his finals performance.
Bryant doesn't quit.
If LeBron James watched this game from the comfort of his 25,000 square foot mansion, I hope he took notes.
Game Seven was far from a masterpiece for Mr. Bryant.
He was 6-24 from the field, 0-6 from three point land, and had just two assists the entire game. But these numbers didn't matter in the end.
Kobe showed everyone why he is the best player in the NBA last night, and LeBron James needs to understand that when the going gets tough, the great ones get going.
Bryant found a way to get himself involved in the game through rebounding (15 rebounds in the game), hustling, and leading his team to victory.
Let's flash back to Game Five for a moment.
Kobe had just finished with 38 point in a losing effort, and his team was one game away from LOSING the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics for the second time in three years.
There wasn't a post-game interview full of "I spoil the fans with my play" or "I gave it my all and it just wasn't enough". Kobe looked angry, and the only thing he said was "Just man up and play. What the hell is the big deal?.
"If I have to say something to them, then we don't deserve to be champions. We're down 3-2: Go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that."
Those are the words of a champion, the greatest player in the NBA today, a true leader that wants to win at any cost.
Kobe would never be caught dead putting himself before the team after a losing effort, the way LeBron did against the Celtics.
As you can see, the outcomes were very different.
Kobe is smiling after yet another finals victory. And LeBron is making the world play the "Where will he go next" guessing game.
Now let's get one thing straight. Kobe Bryant isn't the Angel of the NBA.
He has had his legal troubles, teammate troubles, and was even close to being shipped out of L.A. because he didn't think Phil Jackson's triangle offense would work.
But something inside of him clicked, and he realized that it was time for his court determination to show off the court was well.
So what exactly can LeBron learn from Kobe Bryant?
Let's take a look.
The Heart of a Champion
LeBron James fans all over the world briefly saw this when he lead that amazing comeback against the Pistons in 2007 playoffs.
He took over the game, and basically willed his team to a victory against the heavily favored Detroit squad, scoring all but a few of the Cavaliers points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
But since then, it seems like he has forgotten how to lead his team like that.
Looking back at all the playoff games Kobe Bryant has played, I can't remember him not tying to will his team to victory at any point.
Bryant doesn't care if he has to take 12 shots or 42 shots, he will find a way to make his team believe they can win.
Kobe is a leader by example. And although many can argue that shooting 42 shots in a game isn't a great example, he shows his teammates that they need to do whatever is necessary to win.
LeBron needs to go back and watch the video of the game against Boston in which the Cavaliers got blown out.
He looked like he was giving up, he took 12 shots, and his teammates gave up as a result.
So the first thing LeBron can learn from Kobe is how to have the heart of a champion.
Loyalty to His Team
At only 25, LeBron has gone through much more than what Kobe Bryant endured in his first seven years in the league.
LeBron was anointed the franchise savior from the moment the ping-pong balls fell in the Cavaliers favor in 2003.
Kobe Bryant had the hype, but nowhere near the level that LeBron James has had since coming into the league.
LeBron began his career by showing his loyalty to the Cleveland Cavaliers and northeastern Ohio.
He will always give love to his hometown of Akron, and do amazing things for the city of Cleveland. But when it's all said and done, LeBron is coming up short these days on loyalty to his team.
From the minute Kobe Bryant walked into the league, he wanted to be a Laker. And he got this wish when the Hornets traded him to L.A. for Vlade Divac.
Kobe had his time when it seemed like he was going to turn his back on L.A (just as LeBron is doing now), but in the en,d he realized his love for the franchise, the city, and his teammates was more important then leaving for another team.
If LeBron loves Cleveland, the Cavaliers, his teammates, and his family as much as he says he does, then it is time to stop the games already.
The Killer Instinct of a Champion
Kobe Bryant has this innate ability to realize when it's time for him to take over a playoff game.
Michael Jordan had it too, which is why so many people question whether LeBron James has it.
LeBron has shown in the regular season that he knows when it is time to take over a game with a big shot, thunderous dunk, or booming chase-down block. But he has failed to realize this in the playoffs.
He had that brief moment against the Detroit Pistons back in 2007 when he scored the final 25 points of the game in a double overtime affair. But it has disappeared since then.
Kobe has never forgotten, nor will he ever forget, what it takes to sink that dagger into opponents.
So the third thing LeBron can learn from Kobe is to take over a game without anyone having to tell you to. Aka, the "Killer Instinct".
Define the Type of Player You Want to Be
If you ask anyone who watches basketball, they can tell you what type of player Kobe Bryant is.
They will tell you he is a scorer first. He is not afraid to take the big shot. And he hustles from opening tip-off to the final buzzer.
They won't tell you that he is a passer or even the type of guy who looks to get his teammates involved in games when he has the ball. If that happens, it is just an added bonus to his game.
But most of all, Bryant just wants to win at any cost.
Watching LeBron James, it is hard to tell who exactly he wants to be.
Sometimes, I think LeBron is too talented for his own good. He can pass, shoot, dunk, defend, hustle, and out-run nearly any player on the planet.
And realizing these gifts may be his downfall as a player.
Being too talented is hardly a bad thing, but having these gifts leads LeBron to forget that he is the most dominant player in the game.
When he puts his head down and drives to the hole, the only way to stop him is by wrapping him up and sending him to the free-throw line.
If I had that ability as a basketball player, that would be the first thing to go through my head.
Instead, James is worrying about hitting the big jumper like MJ or Kobe, making the flashy pass like Magic or Oscar, or throwing the big dunk down like Vince Carter.
LeBron needs to define himself as a player, and forget about emulating some of the greats to play this game.
If he continues down the path he is on now, people will say he passed like Magic, dunked like Carter, and made some amazing jumpers like MJ and Kobe.
They will never say that he played the game like LeBron James.
The Final Word
In comparing LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, one thing seems to stick out.
In becoming a business tycoon, a name brand, and the face of the NBA, I think LeBron James has forgotten how to mature properly.
I am the same age as LeBron James, and it is hard to imagine what it would be like to have the weight of the world on my shoulders like he does.
But he has asked for it.
When he entered the league he had "The Chosen One" tattooed on his back, he accepted the nickname King James, and he took on the challenge of becoming Cleveland's savior.
However, as LeBron sits at home and ponders his big decision, he needs to think of only one thing.
What exactly have I done in Cleveland?
No offense to LeBron, but his lack of maturity has taken his mind off of the big picture in competitive sports.
LeBron has led the Cavaliers to more winning seasons than I have seen in my lifetime as a Cavalier fan. He has taken the organization to the top of the NBA and the NBA Finals. He has wowed us with his athleticism and abilities, and even brought home back to back 60 win seasons.
But if LeBron leaves on July 1, 2010, he leaves Cleveland in the same way he found it. Championshipless in basketball, and searching for it's first professional championship since 1964.
So it is at this moment that LeBron needs to ask himself, do I want to be the guy who couldn't get it done in Cleveland?
These cities know what it's like to be a champion, and winning one there would put LeBron on the list of great ones to do it for them.
Winning a championship in Cleveland would make LeBron an immortal the way that Jordan did it in Chicago.
Statues would be erected in his name, families would talk about the parade that LeBron brought to the city of Cleveland, and people could remember LeBron as the man that didn't turn his back on the city when they needed him.
So it's time for James to choose.
Do you want to be like Kobe and MJ and bring home a championship to the team you love?
Or do you want to be like the many others who turned their backs on a city and went somewhere else to try and win one?
The choice is yours LeBron, Kobe proved he can do.
How about you?
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