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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Are Still in Kobe Bryant's Rearview Mirror

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJune 24, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 21:  Confetti thrown from the crowd falls around Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant as he holds the championship trophy while riding in the victory parade for the NBA basketball champion team on June 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-79 in 7 games for the franchise's 16 NBA title. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images

Before the 2009-2010 NBA season began, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade were universally accepted as the best players in all of basketball.

There was a perception that James and Wade had even surpassed Bryant.

Many people felt Bryant's game would face a noticeable decline due to age and eventual wear and tear. Furthermore, a broken finger sustained early in the season didn't do much to change many minds.

Bryant did manage to average 27 points, five rebounds, and five assists during the course of the regular season, while James averaged nearly 30 points per game, to go along with 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds.

Wade's situation was different from Bryant's and James because he didn't have a comparable level of talent surrounding him. Yet, he still managed to average 26 points, six assists, and 4.8 rebounds.

James had one of the most dominant regular seasons in NBA history and would go on to capture his second consecutive MVP award, but the post-season told the story for all three players.

As far as legacies go, the only common denominator to grade all three players would be success in the postseason, and this is the area where Bryant has left James and Wade in the dust.

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This would seem to be an unfair measuring tool considering the quality of Wade's teammates, but the Chicago native has already tasted the nectar of championship success, and thus has a place in the discussion.

Not to mention, Wade was also the Finals' MVP of his 2006 Miami Heat team, which puts him in a class that James has yet to reach.

James' flame-out in the second round of the postseason against the Boston Celtics raised questions about his desire and commitment, something James hadn't yet faced in his career.

No one will ever doubt the talent of James, but after capturing the NBA's No. 1 overall seed each of the past two seasons, the excuse that his supporting cast failed him falls on deaf ears.

The Heat's loss to the Celtics in the first round came as somewhat a surprise, as many people were expecting Miami to possibly upset what had been a very inconsistent Boston team.

In the wake of the Celtics' Finals march, it's easier to accept the fact that Wade's 33 points per game in that series was not enough to offset the more talented Boston team.

Bryant's Lakers' team may have had more overall talent than the Heat or Cavaliers, but few observers were giving his team much of a chance to repeat their championship feat of 2009.

Bryant and the Lakers struggled through injuries and inconsistency all through the regular season, but when the postseason began Bryant's mental fortitude began to materialize.

The Lakers' victory in seven games over the Celtics resulted in Bryant capturing his second consecutive Finals' MVP and his fifth championship, and in the process, quieting scores of critics.

There are still those who will say Wade and James are better individual players than Bryant, but that is a subjective point of view, while it's pretty hard to argue against the disparity in post- season success.

The circumstances surrounding each player's team and their personnel is also different, but that doesn't change the fact that Bryant captured his fifth NBA championship this season, despite his team's own odds.

Both Wade and James have been afforded an opportunity to close the postseason gap between themselves and Bryant, but their impending free agency decisions have to be made with the goal of winning championships in mind.

Even still, it may be hard to catch Bryant because his Lakers' team is poised to compete for NBA championships for at least the next three seasons, regardless of what James and Wade decide.

This season, Bryant proved that his perceived decline was a myth, and in reality, he actually created more distance in the perpetual argument of who the NBA's best player truly is.

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