A couple nights ago, Kobe Bryant hung 61 points on the New York Knickerbockers at Madison Square Garden.
In the process, he carried the Los Angeles Lakers to a victory—oh and Pau Gasol carried their luggage. Kobe also broke Michael Jordan's all-time scoring record—the famed Double-Nickel Game less than a week removed from his first retirement.
Quick digression—maybe we can blame Brett Favre's case of retirementitis on MJ?
Afterwards, the heavens opened and praise for Kobe poured forth. I didn't understand it at the time and I'm still a little skeptical as to why there was such a huge fuss. The feat was spectacular to be sure, but we knew Kobe Bryant was a spectacular basketball player before the game.
Dropping 62 in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks the year they went—and subsequently coughed up—the National Basketball Association Finals told us that. Remember, their defense was much improved and lauded that year.
Putting 81 on anyone screamed it loud and clear.
This was less impressive than either of those feats because the Knicks play zero defense and, in my opinion, are worse than their record indicates. I'd argue they're bad, but that's open for discussion.
In the linked article and subsequent comments, I argued that any great player could put up 61 points on a given night if necessary to win or it was his desire. Maybe not against the good defensive fives in the NBA, but certainly against the lesser ones.
Fast-forward to tonight.
LeBron James just posted the following line on that hallowed hardwood of Madison Square Garden: 52 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, and two blocks with only three turnovers plus a foul in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 107-102 victory.
And you know what the most surprising thing about that line is?
King James didn't even register a single steal. Seriously, he's the fifth-leading thief in the NBA and he bagel'd in the category.
The second most surprising thing is that the Cavs only won by five in a game that LBJ clearly dominated against a vastly inferior opponent.
OK, obviously I'm kidding.
A triple-double is something to sit up and take notice of regardless of whether the guy has 10 points or 25.
When he has 52?
And his team wins?
On top of that, LeBron has only been 24 years old for about a month. Kobe's been in the league for 13 years. That means he's been in the NBA longer than James has been able to get into a PG-13 rated movie without a chaperon.
Kobe's been hoopin' at the pro level for over half King James' entire life.
So, not only is he six years younger than Kobe Bryant, those six years amount to double LBJ's NBA-experience. Even if James had merely matched Kobe, it would have been more impressive because of the youth and relative inexperience.
But a triple double with 52 points is way more impressive than what Kobe did.
You can think that James directly orchestrated at least 74 of Cleveland's 107 points while also contributing more rebounds and blocks. Or you can just revel in the majesty of the simpler line: 52, 11, and 10.
It's got a nice, poetic lilt to it.
The Kobe Homers will say that Kobe doesn't get assists because Kobe doesn't have anyone to pass the Kobe to. Sorry, ball.
That may be true. But LeBron James scored 52 points dropped 11 dimes, and threw in 10 rebounds to boot. Furthermore, can we stop doubting this kid? You think he'd keep mindlessly passing to teammates if they weren't making shots? No, he'd stop passing and put up even more points.
And who says the player on the passing end has nothing to do with whether the guys on the receiving end make it? I'm not saying that's always the case, but you can only get lucky (or unlucky) so many times before it becomes a knack.
Just in case your mind hasn't boggled yet, I'll add one more flourish to King James' handiwork: it was the second game of a back-to-back and third in four days.
In the NBA's version of a double-header, LeBron James posted 85 points, 17 boards, and 15 helpers as his team won both nights.
Since our sports world is relative, there should be even more heraldic lines penned about bearing Witness. I mean, if Kobe's game announced his greatness, what the hell does this one say about Bron-Bron?
Except I wasn't totally kidding way back near the top.
The same logic holds true for LeBron James as it does for Kobe Bryant. There's less of a sample size by comparison, but there are still six years worth of NBA data. And if you've been paying attention to basketball even casually, you've been hearing about him for roughly the last decade.
This stuff shouldn't be that surprising anymore because, in all that time, has LeBron James failed to deliver? If you've expected him have landed a title this early in his career sans substantial help, you're man-crush on James is even worse than mine.
And mine's pretty damned undignified.
So I'll say it again—the New York Knicks are not very good. Add a little dash of one-upmanship because of what Kobe Bryant did and voila.
Special players have that ability. Yes, in a way, it's sad because you start to expect it and that diminishes your reaction to what they've done. That's okay; novelty wears off of everything. It doesn't diminish what they've done.
Kobe Bryant has proven, once again, that his talent is transcendent and cannot be contained by mere professional teams. Only a good one has a chance and, sometimes, not even then.
LeBron James did the same by answering Kobe's supernatural performance with one of his own.
In their latest game of one-upmanship, King James reigns supreme.
Let's just hope that's what it was. And not an audition.
** Special thanks to Andrew Ungvari who initially drew fire, but we reached a peace and he gave me a lot of the above information in the process.