Kobe Bryant, LeBron James: A Matter of Global Perspective and Postseason SuccessMarch 24, 2010
It should come as no surprise the image America holds of itself is very different from the way it is perceived around the globe. Our insistence on being the greatest country on Earth is seen as arrogance by everyone else.
One of the hardest perceptions to shed is America as a nation shrouded in hypocrisy, and non-natives use everything from discovering a country which was previously inhabited, to the horrors of slavery to prove their case.
America usually stands alone when it comes to matters of a political or societal nature, but the one area which everyone can agree on is the love of the nations' athletes—particularly its NBA stars.
The NBA has become a melting pot of the sports world, with American players enjoying rock star status in places such as China and Europe. And no one gets more love overseas than Kobe Bryant.
To be fair, Bryant is popular in the United States too, but overseas, the adoration is universal and less attention is paid to the indiscretions which turned him into a polarizing figure at home.
LeBron James shares the same type of popularity Bryant does in the United States, and there are many fans of Bryant who will acknowledge the growth and maturity of James in his career, but the respect is rarely reciprocated.
The negative responses Bryant receives from fans of James, and a large contingent of society as a whole are steeped in illogical human behavior, and to be honest, are an example of irony themselves.
America loves a winner, and Bryant embodies that spirit as his career has been one which has been defined by success, both individually and as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant has also had to overcome numerous obstacles, some of which were self-inflicted —another example of character our country generally professes its love for.
We love to hear tales about athletes who have had to hit the bottom in order to rise to the top and Bryant fits this profile, except once he fell, many people were more than happy to leave him on the ground.
There are just some who cannot bring themselves to respect Bryant, the man, even if their lips do say they respect Bryant the player, which is understandable, until you add James to the picture.
The success of James is the antithesis of Bryant, because even though he has accomplished far less in the eyes of America, his standing is equal to Bryant's.
Fans of the game and James alike speak as if his anointment as the NBA's best player is a foregone conclusion even though his postseason history, which ultimately judges all players, says he has been a failure.
James' ascension to NBA royalty began before he ever played a NBA minute, and when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, his coronation as the next big thing was complete.
He has since led his team to the postseason in each of his subsequent seasons and every year his playoff fate has been the same, yet many in our society still choose to view James as a winner.
But what exactly has he accomplished?
The MVP awards are nice, and all the individual accolades he has accumulated are impressive, but superstars are ultimately judged by how they perform in the postseason.
Some would have you believe winning championships is a team effort and I would agree, but the players who are considered the absolute best the game has ever seen have been validated in the postseason.
Winning NBA championships is the only reason they play the game, and everything else that occurs during the course of the regular season is just a point of emphasis on the way to an eventual climax.
Players like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone are both considered great power forwards, but when compared to Tim Duncan, the argument is usually concluded when Duncan's four championships are mentioned.
This is not to say James is not a great player and will never achieve the pinnacle of NBA success, but until he does the United States could actually use the rest of the world to recapture our purpose.
We used to be a country which celebrated our champions like no other, but like many other aspects of our society, we have been passed by a world which used our examples to craft their heroes.
That would explain why Bryant is the most popular player in the entire world, and not even in his own country, because everyone else has learned from us to celebrate achievement.
James was reportedly taken aback from the treatment Bryant received in China compared to his own and couldn't understand why, considering his own standing in the United States.
Even Dwayne Wade was recognized before James, and the truth of this more than likely lies in the jewelry both Bryant and Wade had on their fingers.
Besides the relentless advertising from Nike and the constant barrage of James' image across the globe, the only thing people outside of this country really know about LeBron is his postseason failures.
It's difficult for others to understand why James is held in such high esteem, despite his repeated defeats on the NBA's main stage of the postseason.
It's not wrong by any means to recognize a player for the scope of his abilities, but shouldn't the label of great be reserved until something actually great is done?
America has seen its standing drop in nearly every meaningful aspect imaginable including financial, educational, and moral areas in which we once led the world.
It has been said the United States will be surpassed in nearly every category which determines a world leader by China in the near future, and if this is true, maybe we can learn from the Chinese.
After all, they borrowed from us our tendency to celebrate our sports champions, and reserve our highest praise for those athletes who have actually accomplished something.
This dynamic is demonstrated by the Chinese' love of Bryant and the fact his talent has earned him four NBA championships, something we used to hold in the highest esteem.
Instead we have resorted to celebrating the almost greats and that may be why we are facing the predicaments as a society we are challenged with now.
China and the rest of the world have overtaken us in many things and celebrating true achievement is one of them.
Since the world learned this from us, do you think they will be gracious enough to lend it back?