For the past six months, maybe even longer, the highest anticipated marquee match-up in sports has not only been exaggerated, but maybe even uncalled for. Who is better? Kobe or LeBron? Who is the MVP? Kobe or LeBron? Who will win the championship WHEN they face each other in the NBA Finals? Not the Lakers or the Cavs... But Kobe or LeBron?
These questions have been answered in the first three games of the respected Conference Finals whether we would like to admit it or not. Hardly a coincidence, Kobe's Lakers own a 2-1 lead in a gritty series that has 7 games written all over it. While LeBron's Cavs face a must win road game in a building where they haven't had much success, now trailing the series 2-1. It doesn't help that their opponent in the Orlando Magic is a significantly better team.
Which may lead us to believe that all the previous success was more so bark than bite. While LeBron maybe slightly more media friendly than Kobe, I don't see LeBron's success this season working as any sort of leverage in the debate in who is better. His MVP award was certainly deserving, but his free throw inefficiency gives me second thoughts on how ready he is for the big stage (and I'm not talking about commercials for Vitamin Water).
FYI: The best record in the league means nothing if you don't make it to the Finals. The Cavs risk letting down the city of Cleveland yet again, while hometown phenom LeBron James has been exploited as a continued work in progress.
We've watched him soar for tomahawk slams just as we have seen him coin the new term "run down" by chasing opponents for emphatic rejections in the open court. Recently we have seen him miss critical free throws in games with much heavier stakes than the regular season bouts in which he averaged 78 percent. He is averaging 74 percent from the foul line in the Conference Finals. Kobe's free throw percentage has remained in the 80s throughout his career never making him a liability at the end of a game in that regard.
True enough, basketball has never seen a guy quite like LeBron James. That makes him the easy pick considering Kobe's entire persona resembles that of Michael Jordan all the way to the tongue waging and gum chewing.
Still, the King of this league is evident. The title is not earned with a nickname given by marketers and league promoters who are star struck when they see LeBron James (as we all should be). But let's respect the guy who has willed his team to victories when everyone else questioned the toughness of his personnel. Kobe Bryant's competitive spirit is ingenuous and that in itself is enough to get his teammates lifted to beat the Nuggets.
The excuses for LeBron James are ironic because he isn't the type of guy to make excuses. Ask the MVP if he doesn't believe in his teammates. He may not acknowledge that while his performances are legendary statistically and in terms of flair, they lack validity with every critical free throw he strong arms or airballs. But he will always trust is supporting cast. At least we think so.
Let it be clear. Kobe Bryant, with 3 Championships under his belt and an MVP trophy of his own IS the greatest player in the game. Until his physical body no longer allows him to compete at the level that his natural killer instinct demands of him, that is when we can crown LeBron as King James (assuming by then he is practicing free throws more than trick shots at shootarounds). As for the NBA Finals, let's hope LeBron is everything we have all said he is. Because if the Magic advance, it would come as no shock to me if Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkgolu and Rashard Lewis stole the Kobe vs. LeBron show along with the Larry O'Brien Trophy. That's just another FYI.
These playoffs are the most battle testing match-ups we can ask for. And that isn't even the best part. In a couple of weeks, they will unveil the greatest player in the game today... in case you didn't know who he was.