What we saw: Kobe Bryant streaks down the court, sizing up his steps for a dunk. LeBron stalks from behind, inching closer and closer, but purposely staying a stride behind for one of his chasedown blocks.
What we didn’t see: Kobe, the wily veteran in the twilight of his career, has learned to pace himself. It’s been said that he’s effectively a jump shooter now, and that’s partly true.
But Kobe can still get up; he can still surprise you. LeBron’s pacing himself too, but for all the wrong reasons. He wants that highlight reel rejection. In a full sprint, he gets there, fouls Kobe (hard) and makes him earn two from the line.
What we saw: Kobe takes two glances back at LeBron.
What we didn’t see: “I’ve seen you coming for a long time, LBJ. You were the biggest hype machine the NBA Draft has ever seen. You’ll challenge me for bragging rights as the best player to skip college altogether. But let it be known, I’m still ahead. I can see you coming, and you’re close, and maybe you’ll get there. For now though, you still live in my rearview mirror.’’
What we saw: Kobe raises up and throws down a two-handed dunk, barely bringing the ball above the rim and protecting it for as long as he can. LeBron times his jump well and makes a swipe, but comes up short.
What we didn’t see: Kobe asserts his power over LeBron. This is more vicious than you realize.
What we saw: Kobe lands, and LeBron flies past. Kobe looks back at LeBron again and slaps him on the backside in a seemingly friendly gesture.
What we didn’t see: That it wasn’t friendly. Nothing about Kobe’s 37-point performance was. Kobe slaps LeBron as if to say, “Good try. Nice effort. But you’re not on my level, son.” He turns his head with that “Got ‘em, Coach!” look plastered across his face.
Shaking his head, he knows that he’s still the best. Not the best shooter, or dunker, or defender. Kobe is no longer the most skilled anything in the NBA, and who knows if he ever was? But Kobe still has that one thing, that one thing LeBron may never have. Kobe does one thing better than anyone else in the NBA, and that’s all he needs:
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