The Los Angeles Lakers have had an offseason for the ages, one so spectacular, it is hard to imagine the team not making the 2012-13 NBA Finals. Just like it is hard to imagine the Miami Heat not making it to the Finals. If the teams on paper are as impressive as they seem, then we could be in for the match up we have all been waiting for; Lebron James versus Kobe Bryant for the Championship Trophy.
The Lebron/Kobe match up is an NBA fan’s dream come true, and now that both have a supporting casts made up of players that would be the first option on any other team, Lakers/Heat could prove to be one of the best series of all times.
There have been so many great Finals over the years, but as the rosters sit now, Lakers/Heat would boast a total of 12 All-Stars, with an accumulated 66 All-Star appearances between them. This stat may not mean much, due to fans having a role in the All-Star selection processes, but it is still an impressive number none the less.
Maybe Finals appearances would be considered more impressive. In that case, again, with these rosters, there would be 21 players who had made an NBA Finals appearance, 40 appearances in all. I am not even going to go into how many games of Finals experience that is, and I don’t think I have to. 40 appearances between the players on two teams is unreal. What you may find surprising is that out of the 40 appearances, the Laker’s players only account for 12. The current Heat roster shows just one signed player without a Finals appearance, and 9 players having been there 2 or more times.
There would be 26 Championship rings, 4 Finals MVP titles, 3 regular season MVPs accounting for 6 of the last 8 award winners. There would also be 3 scoring champs, and 4 scoring titles, as well as 3 Rookie of Year winners, 2 NBA 6th Man awards, and 4 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
All of these stats point to an NBA Finals packed with the best talent this generation of the NBA has to offer. It reminds me of when we would draft our own teams on NBA 2k, securing the best of the best on each side, and letting the chips fall where they may. We see two star studded rosters simply bursting with talent, and it becomes hard to disallow a Lakers, Heat series as possibly one of the best we would ever see.
This is what it is all about. The Black Mamba versus King James. The ultimate answer to the most highly debated question in the NBA, who is better, Lebron or Kobe.
This debate has raged on for so many years, and although Lebron led his Cleveland Cavaliers to several league best regular season records, he was never able to make it to the Finals during Kobe’s prime years. Now, Lebron has been to the Finals in the last two seasons while Kobe could only keep his Lakers in the hunt, falling short in both years.
Stats are constantly compared between the two players, head to head match ups analyzed and reanalyzed, all in the hopes of determining which is the better player, neither giving an inch, with compelling arguments on both sides.
Lebron has been a monster in the game since he first made his way to the NBA arena. He was Rookie of the Year, is an 8 time All NBA First Team selection, and a 2 time All-Star MVP. He also has 3 regular season MVPs, and 1 Finals MVP to his credit.
Kobe has 13 All NBA selections, 9 times being voted to the first team. He has been on the NBA All Defensive team 11 times, and is a two time scoring champ. He is tied for most all time as a 4 time All-Star MVP. More importantly, he has been the League MVP once, and has twice been the Finals MVP.
Either way you look at it, both players have executed at an extremely high level throughout their entire career and each stakes a claim as the greatest of our time. Trying to decide who the best is between the two eventually comes down to the importance placed on each stat by the person making the argument. You could say Lebron is the best because he has a better winning percentage throughout his career than Kobe, or Kobe could be labeled the best because he has 5 NBA Championships to his name, while Lebron only has 1.
You can look at individual moments and point out amazing play from both men that will probably never be replicated again on the NBA hardwood. Kobe’s 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, or Lebron scoring 29 of the last 30 points in a double overtime game to beat the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the the 2006-07 Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The list goes on, and on…and on, and on…
Stats, wins, and playoff performances make it hard to argue that Kobe has been the better of the two for majority of the years in question, but there has been an obvious shift in momentum over the last two years, making an impressive case for Lebron to be named the best player currently in the league.
USA Men’s Basketball-
At this time, Lebron and Kobe are teammates in London, representing the United States, as part of the USA Men’s Basketball team heavily favored to win Olympic gold. It was in the 2008 Olympics that Kobe Bryant seemed to flip the switch on his game by stepping in to the facilitator role, getting others involved, and then scoring when the opportunity came. This approach to the game was a major strength for Kobe, and was a big part of his next two Championship runs.
This year, Kobe is stepping back even further, still obviously a leader of the team and deadly as ever, but truly pushing his teammates to reach a higher potential, something Lebron is excelling at all on his own.
James may be playing the best basketball of his career right now. Including his performance in the 2011-12 NBA Finals, Lebron looks to be in the midst of the most prominent display of dominance the world has ever seen. It is an extremely arguable declaration to make, but there are solid arguments backing it up, just as there are strong cases for other dominant forces the league has seen, such as Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, or Wilt Chamberlain. Regardless, there is no denying the fact that Lebron is playing better than he ever has.
I don’t want to say he is playing at his highest level ever, after all, Lebron has been magic on the court more times than not, but now he is incredibly consistent. He remains the best player on the floor, at all times, not allowing himself to fade into the background the way he has in the past.
Both Lebron and Kobe’s play in London shows us where they are in the evolution of their individual games. Kobe is still one of the most dangerous players on the floor, but he is also realizing he is not the same player he was just a few seasons ago. Much like Michael Jordan before him, Kobe has allowed his game to evolve, developing strengths out of his past weaknesses, allowing him to continually compete to be named the best ever. Lebron has taken the next step as well, making the game look like child’s play. He has gotten the monkey off of his back and is playing with the confidence of an NBA Champion. I would expect what we are seeing in London to be an indicator of what both men will have to offer this year; the year they may finally meet.
2012-13 NBA Finals-
The Finals are a long way off, and everything at this point is pure speculation, but the Lakers and the Heat are getting the lowest payouts from odds makers all over the world. Both teams are completely stacked, and if either team fails to make it to the final series, their season will be seen as a complete bust. That could even be said of making it to the finals and losing.
This type of tension can break a team, but of the two, I would argue that the Lakers are the most likely to fail in their quest of winning a 17th Championship, which would tie the Boston Celtics for the most all time. Amazingly, the Lakers only have 4 players who have been to the Finals before. That gives quite an experience advantage to the Miami Heat. Still, the odds of the Lakers making it to the Finals are nearly 2-1 over any of their Western Conference foes.
For their part, the Miami Heat have been to the last two Finals, have been able to keep their core team together, and have added powerful pieces in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Looking at the two teams based on stats and sheer talent, it is hard to see any other outcome for the 2012-13 season.
A dream come true
As fans, we have clamored for Lebron vs. Kobe for years. Watching two of the greatest players of all time square off against each other would be exciting, even to the casual fan. For a real basketball junky, it would be one of the most memorable moments in our sports lives. It would be like Magic Johnson coming back and playing in the All-Star game after contracting the HIV virus and being forced to retire. It would make for a “where were you when” moment in sports history. It has been years in the making, and the window of opportunity is slipping away, with every game played bringing us closer to the point where Kobe can no longer compete on an elite level.
Now is the time to bring these two statistical juggernauts together for the ultimate showdown. Now is the time to settle the dispute. Now is the time to leave the Nike puppets in the closet, and play it out on the court, playing the best of seven, and showing the world, once and for all, who is the best player in the game, Lebron James, or Kobe Bryant.
Jeff Everette is a featured columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. You can follow him on twitter @jeverettesports, or subscribe to Jeff Everette-RantSports.com on both Facebook and Google+ for all of his latest articles, opinions, and rants.
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