Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kobe v. Lebron, Version Lockout

Today is a very important day for the NBA. If the fruits of yet another player-owner meeting do not yield progress, we are looking at a full season of hockey. And who wants that?

Because I couldn't think of a slick intro, I'll just tell you what this post's about. Our two great minds have come up with...nothing. ESPN did a mini roundtable comparing Kobe and LeBron, asking the questions you will see below. We have decided to copy this. We have no shame in doing so.

1. Who would lose more from a cancelled season?

KOBEsh: This question has to be broken down into two parts. They both have a tremendous amount to lose from a cancelled season, the most important of which is both men losing another chance to win an NBA title while in their "primes", LeBron being in the midst of his dominance and Kobe being on the tail end of his. Of course the window for LeBron will be open for many years to come, but for Kobe, this could be his last shot at winning as "the man". In this sense, Kobe has a bit more to lose not playing a game in the 2011-2012 season.

Kobe's legacy is already set. There's not a lot he could do in regards to his playing days (he only ALLEGEDLY did that, loyal MAMBINO readers, never actually convicted) that would really sully that at this point. LeBron on the other hand, will be 27 years by the end of the lockout. His two partners in silver medaling, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, will be 27 and an injury prone 29 years old, respectively. Not that they couldn't win 3 or 4 championships in a row, but, if you haven't heard yet, these gentlemen have won nothing. Every year that LeBron continues an NBA career without winning a title is a dozen times more costly than Kobe with his pimp hand full of rings. If their careers were to end today, Kobe would be top 10, while LeBron would be stuck trying to justify a ringless career.

This all being said, it's Kobe who has more to lose. It's a bigger news story in the present for LeBron to win a ring, but in 20 years, it's going to be much more important that Kobe won his sixth. He's trying to keep up with Michael's ring count. LeBron is trying to keep up with Alonzo Mourning's.

Bocker: Good grief, there was so much homer in that response that the baseball hasn't even landed yet. I'm still looking for it, bro.

There is no question that LeBron has more to lose from a cancelled season. And aside from the reasons which you happened to eloquently mention, I'm gonna scale it back and talk about practice. (YEAH, WE TALKIN BOUT PRACTICE).

Don't get me wrong, Kobe is a masterful assassin. He can beat you in so many ways. The Mamba's post-up game has no match. Shade left, and you'll get a right shoulder fadeaway. Shade right, left shoulder fadeaway. Play face defense, be treated to a up-and-under. Back off, swish in your eye. Kobe beats some of his opponents before tipoff through intimidation alone, which is probably the most Jordanesque any player will ever become.

LeBron, on the other hand, plays basketball like he's playing a video game. It's so easy to say "make him shoot the jumper," but in reality, most NBA players don't have the defensive IQ combined with enough athletic ability to stop LeBron from getting to the rim, even if you give him space. He wants to throw down in your mug on every single play. In the playoffs, it always takes a combined team effort from a group with a two-fold gameplan: have enough structure to trap LeBron into making "video-game mistakes," but have enough flexibility to gamble by making educated guesses on what LeBron will do with the ball. The Celtics and Mavericks have done this brilliantly.

My point? Well, has anyone ever considered that maybe LeBron just doesn't want to be the player we all want him to be? Everybody has an opinion on what he needs to do to get better: refine the game down low, shoot better from the perimeter, don't let off-the-court stuff impact your life, etc. But what if he's perfectly fine with playing video games for the rest of his life? Mama and Pop wanted me to play the piano like a good little yellow boy...doesn't mean I actually had to keep doing it.

So, getting back to practice (finally), LeBron doesn't need extra time in the gym. He can cross you over or crab dribble his way to the bucket in his sleep. In actuality, regular season games ARE the practice that LeBron needs, because the only thing he's missing is his mental toughness, something you don't work on when you scrimmage with your teammates. Kobe? The guy isn't playing checkers, he's been playing chess for years. Miss a season, big deal; he's still the effing Mamba. But Kobe's offensive game, combined with his age, actually requires him to spend time in the gym. Maintaining a truly complete offensive repertoire is not like riding a bicycle; it's more like studying for a standardized test. Success is correlated with consistent and relentless effort.

2. Who means more to his team next season?

B: LeBron, by a wide margin. You know when you play pickup, and before you pick teams, everybody knows who the two best players are? Sometimes, the talent is so uneven that the game will be decided if the two blue chippers somehow wind up together. That's LeBron and Wade in a nutshell.

Only, it hasn't worked out for those two. "Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" is similar to when the two pickup ballers give each other the look, and basically decide they want to practice throwing alley-oops, instead of getting the easy win. And if the other team gets wind of this in time, the game is usually a lot closer than it should be. The Heat steamrolled through the first couple rounds of the playoffs. Every pundit alive was glowing. Fast forward to Game 1 of the Finals, where the Heat blew out the Mavericks, and celebrated as if the Larry O'Brien trophy was awaiting them in the locker room. Guess what, Miami. Dallas found out you were trying to throw alley-oops.

If the Heat, and most specifically, LeBron, just clamped down, every NBA fan outside of The Heat Index would be in FEAR.

K: LeBron. The Heat were 2 games away from a championship in June and if LeBron plays up to even 80% of his potential (I'd mark his performance in June as about 60%), MAMBINO doesn't quite have the same quantity of bile-filled posts in its short history. Wade and Bosh played nearly as well as they could have played, and I think that this just proves that as the LeBron goes, the Heat go. In 2012, Kobe isn't going to have the same role he's had for the past 15 seasons; new coach Mike Brown has repeatedly brought up his time with the Spurs with Tim Duncan and David Robinson as a point of reference for an offense featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. I'm not saying that Kobe is not integral to the Lakers' success, especially in regards to winning a title, but his role is definitely not the same as it was even in 2011. 

3. Who has a better shot at being 2012 Finals MVP?

K: LeBron. James was the subordinate player to Wade's alpha dog in the Finals against Dallas, and the Heat were outclassed in 6 games. Wade is not getting any better and unless Bosh commits to becoming a premiere post player, LeBron has to be the best player on the team for them to win a chip. If he's not the best player on the court, I don't see how the Heat win a title.

B: I think each team has an equal shot at getting to the finals. While the West is better than the East from top to bottom, the playoff teams from the respective conferences are a close match. So I don't foresee this question being answered by predicting which team has an easier road to the Finals.

LeBron certainly has to be the best player on the floor for the Heat to win a title, but that doesn't necessarily mean he has a better shot at being 2012 Finals MVP. Put it this way: if the Heat win it all, there will be a rallying cry for Wade to get the honors. But if the Lakers are the last ones standing, no decision-maker on Earth would choose to give it to anyone over Kobe.

4. Who should finish higher in NBA Rank?

K: LeBron. As much as it hurts me as a basketball fan and as a person who generally dislikes uneducated hypocrites who suffer from unsubstantiated egomania, I have to say that LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a basketball player on an NBA court (though perhaps not off of it). LeBron should be the best player in the league. Maybe an entire summer (and more than likely, two summers, a winter and spring) of criticism from everyone who cares about the NBA will force him to become a better player than the flawed baller he is now.

B: Neither. Each has an advantage over the other in multiple categories. The NBA doesn't masquerade as an individual sport, like baseball. That's just what college basketball freaks want you to think. It is a team game, where one's talents can be increased or decreased when they are juxtaposed with another's. There is no way to truly say who is the better basketball player without my head being blown to pieces. And that, my friends, is poetry.

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