There are numerous people who feel that Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have surpassed Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant as the NBA's top player, but what are the duo's chances of passing Bryant on the NBA's all-time player list?
Whenever Bryant finally decides to hang up his sneakers he will almost assuredly occupy a place among the game's top 10 players of all time. Some observers even think that Bryant will end his career in the top five.
Bryant has certainly amassed the credentials to justify a top five debate.
Bryant is already the leading scorer in Lakers history and currently sits in sixth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list with more than 27,000 career points and there is a chance that he will move even further up that list.
Bryant has also won one league MVP award, two NBA Finals MVP awards, nine first team All-NBA selections and nine first team all defense awards.
Not to mention Bryant's five championships with the Lakers, which places him in some very rare air with players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell who are the only players on the top 10 list who managed to win at least five rings in their careers.
Those are some pretty impressive numbers for Bryant and while it is possible for Wade and James to bridge the chasm, they both have quite a bit of ground to make up—especially Wade.
Wade is entering his ninth NBA season and he has scored almost 14,000 points so far in his career, which means that even if Wade maintains his scoring pace for the next nine seasons it's unlikely he will ever eclipse Bryant in that category.
Of course scoring isn't everything, but in almost every aspect used to measure a player, Bryant still holds a distinct edge over Wade.
Wade has only been named to the All-NBA first team twice in his career and he has never been selected for the All-Defense first team and he has yet to win a single league MVP award.
Wade was named the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, which is only one less than Bryant, but that championship in 2006 is the only one of Wade's career.
James appears to be a much stronger candidate than Wade to surpass Bryant on the all-time player list since he will in all probability eventually surpass Bryant in every measurable category.
James has already scored more than 17,000 points in his career and he has also averaged more assists, rebounds and shot for a higher percentage from the field than Bryant.
In fact, if James continues to post the type of numbers he has for the first eight seasons of his career he could very well redefine the way we judge players statistically in the sport.
Unfortunately, numbers alone do not make a legendary player and although James may be the most complete player the league has ever seen, he will need to prove it in the postseason.
One thing the greatest NBA players all have in common is success in the postseason and it really doesn't matter if James shatters every record imaginable if he doesn't win at least one championship and Finals MVP, especially considering the superstar help he has now.
The fact that Wade and James are teammates also plays a role in their pursuit of Bryant on the all-time list, because even if multiple championships are in the Heat's future either Wade or James will have to play the leading role.
Call it the Scottie Pippen factor.
I have little doubt that the Heat will win at least two rings barring injury, but in that instance Wade or James will have to assume the role of Michael Jordan and their dual presence will certainly diminish their output on the court.
Wade and James averaged 24.5 and 23.7 points per game respectively during the 2011 NBA Playoffs which is below their career averages and James suffered a decline in nearly every other category across the board.
I expect those numbers to improve as the Heat becomes a more cohesive unit, but even when the titles come either Wade or James will have to be recognized as the primary reason. Last time I checked the NBA doesn't hand out too many co-Finals MVP awards.
The fact that Bryant still has gas left in the tank is also an important factor in the conversation, because the Lakers have enough talent on their team to help Bryant add to the considerable advantage he holds over Wade and James on the all-time list.