After Kobe Bryant won his fifth NBA Finals with the Lakers and LeBron James left the Cavaliers in the cold with a high payroll and little talent, the Black Mamba certainly gained some credibility in the "league's best player" debate.
Mentioning James' name in the same sentence as Bryant became taboo in some circles.
But is all this hate really justified for LeBron? Is Kobe really the better player?
The answer right now has to be no. While Kobe may have the rings and the pedigree, LeBron James is the single best basketball player on the planet and was completely worthy of his MVP trophy this past year.
It is obvious that statistics do not tell the whole story, that the simple box score cannot possibly quantify a player's contributions completely to a team, but they are not without use. And statistically, LeBron James is without comparison.
Despite taking more than a shot fewer last year, James poured in nearly 30 points compared to Kobe's 27 and almost two rebounds more per game, illustrating James' ability to score efficiently and work hard on the glass.
However, the most telling difference in their statistics was James averaging more than three and a half more assists than Bryant despite the fact that Bryant was dishing the ball out to studs like Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom instead of Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison.
This impressive passing ability is what makes LeBron's offensive impact so much greater than Bryant's.
While Bryant's passing skills have been lauded as tremendous when he needs to use them, he has never demonstrated the ability to "turn it on" consistently for long stretches like James has.
Seemingly able to see players using the eyes on the back of his head, there have been few big forwards like him that have ever had court vision like LeBron, who has elevated truly average players to high statuses.
When Mo Williams came to the Cavaliers, his addition was played off as a minor acquisition on a salary dump by the Bucks as Williams had failed to live up to his big contract. However, in his first year with the Cavaliers, whether it was fair or not, he made an All-Star team and put up huge numbers for them.
Additionally, players like Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson have benefited by his tremendous positive impact on the court, as his ability to get players easy shots helps his team win games.
However, despite all these great qualities, he failed to win a championship only reached the NBA Finals once with the Cavaliers, his greatest failing and the biggest reason why Kobe Bryant is typically hailed as the league's best.
However, the fact is that championships are not won by one player alone, they require a core of two to three great players that can carry a team.
In Bryant's case, he has had Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol. In between them, Bryant had the Kwame Brown's of the world and unsurprisingly did not win very much.
In fact, just like James, he wanted to leave his team, even requesting a trade out of Los Angeles because he was convinced he could not win a championship with the cast he had.
Had he taken the "easy way out" and left the Lakers for a better team, would he draw as much criticism as James did?
Perhaps, but the fact is that because of their favorable cap situation and their ability to prey on the Memphis Grizzlies, they were able to improve their team by adding a player who is generally regarded as one of the top two or three big men in the league in Pau Gasol, satisfying their superstars wish for help and leading them to two more NBA Finals victories.
The fact is that LeBron James has never been in a position that Kobe Bryant is in with a supporting cast full of All-Stars.
His team was so bad that when he went 8-21 with 27 points, 10 assists, and 19 rebounds (he also did have nine turnovers to be fair) in a crucial loss that he would get blamed because his supporting cast could not cover up for his failings while Bryant had a 6-of-24 night in Game 7 of the Finals and left the game with the Finals MVP trophy for his work.
The fact is that winning forgives all and as such people do not look at Bryant's game with as discerning an eye as they do at James.
Just a parting thought. Imagine the Cavaliers without LeBron James (basically as they are constructed now) vs. the Lakers without Kobe Bryant.
The Cavaliers are a lottery team while the Lakers are still likely a playoff team (the Cavs went 1-5 without LeBron and the Lakers went 6-3 without the Black Mamba).
Now with a legitimate supporting cast, we'll see who proves to be the superior player this year. The smart money is on LeBron.
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