There are three unwritten rules to Kobe Bryant standom.
- Remind yourself daily that he is the best player to touch a basketball since Michael Jordan.
- Make it your mission to tear down any threat to The Mamba’s place on the all-time list.
- Cherish and protect the man’s legacy as “the greatest” with your life.
All three statutes went up in flames Sunday night when LeBron James won his third NBA title – dispatching the 73-9 Golden State Warriors on their home floor. In James’ greatest accomplishment to date, he not only took down the best team the league has seen in 20 years while ending the city of Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought – he did so with a team comprised entirely of players (and head coach) handpicked by James himself. It was the culmination of LeBron’s open letter Cleveland two years ago when he vowed to help bring a champion to the shores of Lake Erie.
Since coming into the league in 2003, James’ ascendance to the distinction of the league’s best player has been met with resistance from the large contingency of Kobe fanatics.
Bryant’s presence is one of the NBA’s past – a man who championed the iso-heavy, ball-stopping era of the early 2000s – where players were heralded by fans more for their one on one game than how their game flowed within the structure of an offense. He took (and made) bad shots, isolated himself from teammates and was the hardest working man on the floor for 20 seasons, earning him five rings in the process. Bryant called out players who didn’t work as hard as him, beefed with the best running mate he ever had for the sole purpose of being the best.
While Kobe was the maniacal winner with a clear mindset of destroying the opposition, LeBron went about things a different way. Instead of isolating himself from teammates like Bean, James frequently organized team functions, building camaraderie. For every direct jab Kobe threw at his mates for their mishaps on the court, LeBron casually sent his passive aggressive messages through social media. While Bryant seemed hellbent on taking the last shot with defenders draped over him, James preferred making the absolute best basketball play by passing the ball to the open man.
The resistance of LeBron’s ascension from Kobe fans didn’t just stem from the difference in philosophy. But the fact that the sheer idea of LeBron being better than Bryant went against everything they thought a basketball player should be post-Jordan. You don’t pass the ball off with the game on the line when you’re the lead dog, we were taught. “Willing a team to victory” means shoot every shot down the stretch and scoring 15-plus points, thus becoming the sole reason your team wins. LeBron was against the grain in that regard and it was unfathomable that a Kobe fan could relinquish the title of “best player” for a guy like this.
Even when it was the kid from Akron was a better player, the Kobe Kontingent (myself included) went great lengths to discredit The King.
“Michael, Magic or Bird would never team up together” we said after LeBron’s ‘Decision’- ignoring the fact Bron, along with Wade and Bosh, executed the greatest example of player power in league history.
“Bron quit on his team” is what we said after Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals when LeBron went 3/14 in a swing game to the Boston Celtics, even though our beloved Bean refused to shoot in the second half of Game 7 in the first round against the Phoenix Suns in 2006.
“LeBron just doesn’t have that killer instinct that Kobe has.” We said even after James’ biblical performance in Boston, where he dropped 45 points and pulled down 15 boards with his team down 3-2, single-handily keeping the Miami Heat’s championship dreams alive.
That collective reasoning was put to rest as the final seconds ticked off the clock at Oracle Arena Sunday night. LeBron, overcome with emotion after winning his third title, collapsed to the hardwood. As he fell to the ground so to did any excuse to disparage the man. On this night he finally shed the demons that haunted him in the past.
On that night, he was King.
A Bay Area resident rooting for all things Los Angeles.