Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Heroes & Villains Exchange Roles, Lift NBA Ratings

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Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Heroes & Villains Exchange Roles, Lift NBA Ratings
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

In the high profile world of professional sports, perception of a superstar’s persona may truly be their reality.  For Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James of the Miami Heat, what a difference a year can make. 

Longtime rivals on the court, the veteran Bryant and the younger James have switched good guy/bad guy roles.  The Lakers future Hall of Famer somehow emerged from an earlier NBA life of cockiness and assault accusations to become the game’s marquee player, goodwill ambassador, commercial pitchman and all-around nice guy. 

King James, on the other end, made a DECISION last July that stunned the basketball world for its sheer audacity—he left his cozy boyhood confines of Ohio, with its adoring Cleveland Cavaliers fans, for the chance to play alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in South Florida.

If George Lucas were to add to the Star Wars legacy, one might picture LeBron reprising the role of Anakin Skywalker turning into Darth Vadar.  Kobe meanwhile, with his legal battle six years in the rear view mirror and two more championships added to his collection, has grown into the role of, at 32, the competitive, clean living, focused superstar of the basketball world that we envisioned for him when he first joined the league in 1996 as a 17-year-old from Lower Merion High in suburban Philadelphia.

How did their good guy/bad guy roles get reversed?  Do we care?  Does it matter?  Apparently we do—it’s an insatiable appetite for NBA theatre with Kobe and LeBron starring in this long running melodrama. 

Let’s examine:

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