LeBron James and Kobe Bryant careers will forever be intertwined.
What's the connection between my opening statement and the title? Let me break it down.
Kobe entered the NBA through Lower Merion High. James via Saint Vincent-Saint Mary HS. Both were highschoolers when they entered the league. Both disrespected someone older than them during a game: Once Karl Malone, recalling an incident with Kobe Bryant, was quoted after trying to set a pick for him. "The guy told me he's got it," the then 34-year-old Malone said. "Like I told Coach Karl, when younger guys tell me to get out of the way, that's a game I don't need to be in. I was ticked." James not to be outdone did it in front of the cameras when he said to his mom: "sit your (butt) down!" on mother's day.
Both wanted the spotlight from each other. It was June 2003, Draft night, James was ready for the biggest day of his life. He was about to be made the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers on national television. But James' handshake with David Stern was upstaged that day by breaking news during the broadcast that Bryant planned to opt out of his contract with the Lakers and seek free agency after the next season. Thus effectively stealing James spotlight. Later, just this summer James will have his revenge, LeBron would put his towering shadow towards the finals. Nobody was talking about Kobe. The media have decidedly put the most interest on the upcoming free agency. James stole Kobe's crowning moment when he defeated the Celtics.
"It sort of tells me that our players have, through their hard work, captured the imagination of many, many people," Stern said drily.
Both superstars, at one point in time, decided that their teams wasn't helping them to achieve their championship goals. And this is where the line is drawn.
While Kobe was hesitant to leave LA (Barkley dared him once to renounce his no trade clause option so that he can easily be traded), James decided he could no longer be caged in a small town like Cleveland. That he's "taking his talents to south beach". All hell breaks loose.
LeBron had all the right to walk. He was tired of waiting. Michael Jordan also waited seven years to get a title, so does Wilt Chamberlain. Maybe the market was too small to attract big named free agents. Maybe he tired looking at his rival Bryant collecting rings because he already had 1-upped Kobe in the MVP department.
But come to think of it Shaq came there. Later Jamison joined Mo Williams and the motley crew that was the Cavs. They won 61 games. Just enough to be proclaimed the NBA's best team. What happened? What made James decide that Cleveland is a no-win scenario? Basing on the number of wins they have what it took to win the championship. The Bulls only had 57 win when they took the 1993 title.
The play-offs -- Michael Jordan once said -- is where boys are separated from men. Boston pounded them to the ground. Instead of taking it to himself to improve, James decided Cleveland just wasn't enough. James escaped the hardships of Cleveland to have a seemingly easier life in Miami.
James long-time basketball idol, Michael Jordan had this remark: “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’” Jordan said. “But that’s . . . things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”
James seemed to rip off everything Kobe ever did in his career. He only missed this part: “I’m going to kick some ass in practice…” Bryant said. “It’s going to get through. You beat it into their heads until it gets through.” Jordan did the same to Scottie Pippen. Burning him in practice until his potential to greatness was in full view. Kevin Garnett, another consuming leader, was once spotted scolding Glen Davis to tears.
Cleveland obviously felt betrayed. And rightfully so. Real basketball fans also deep in their hearts felt betrayed too. James in our minds was so talented, so powerful to seek help elsewhere. Great players attracts great players. Cleveland became desirable because of LeBron. Cleveland and James could have had the players he wanted had he stayed. James had it all in his palms only to lose it.
In old times, when you battle at sea, the victor sinks the loser's ship. And thus the losers become hostages or prisoners of war. Wade has proven he is a winner. James has only scratched the surface. He shouldn't have joined Wade he should have "beat those guys.” James lost his identity in the process. And we are angry for it.
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