As you probably already know, the Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired a sharp-shooter who was one of my favorite players since he was at Creighton1 Kyle Korver from the Hawks for essentially nothing in return from the Cavs. The Korver addition makes the East leading Cavs even more dangerous and all but locks up the Eastern Conference; if it wasn’t already. A strange side effect of the Korver trade is that it has brought many strong takes from the internet from some of my least favorite people… Kobe fans.
Kobe fans are the worst. They are in a never-ending battle with themselves to try and convince their own mind that Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James. While there is absolutely zero statistical evidence to back up that claim, if you even try have this argument with a Kobe fan, as soon as you start talking you will be interrupted with screams of, “Kobe has FIVE rings!”
With the addition of Korver to LeBron’s plethora of weapons, Kobe fans are reminding everyone everywhere that Kobe didn’t need all these All-Stars to win championships like LeBron did. No, he didn’t need All-Stars, he needed future Hall of Fame players. No one special, maybe a Shaq here, or a Pau Gasol there. Nothing too major.
There was a tweet fired away from a Kobe fan that said “My favorite player won a championship with this roster, yours needs four all-stars.” The picture that was tweeted was the 2009 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, who along with Kobe consisted of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum (when he wasn’t insane and was still good) and Lamar Odom. Maybe this guy forgot, but Bynum and Gasol are both over seven-foot, and Lamar Odom was a few more green vegetables away as a kid from also being seven-foot. That was one of the most difficult front courts to match-up with in recent memory. The Lakers made a similar deal that season, trading NBA legend Kwame Brown away for Pau Gasol, who was an All-Star, and helped lead them to an NBA championship. So perhaps, like every other player ever, Kobe did need help.
It also seems as if people are forgetting that Kobe won three of his championships with a player who was arguably the most dominant player the NBA had seen since Wilt Chamberlin. His name was Shaquille O’Neal. Also, not to be forgotten, when Kobe Bryant was still good enough to be playing for titles, the Golden State Warriors weren’t a thing. Sure, you had the Boston Celtics big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. It’s just that team comes nowhere near the talent level of this current Golden State Warriors squad. The NBA is a race of two teams now: the Cavs and the Warriors. Could the Spurs, Clippers, or Rockets possibly find a way to upset Golden State? I guess, but I wouldn’t put money on it. And could Toronto or Boston possibly find a way to upset the Cavs? No. I would put money on that.
Championships are the only thing Kobe has on LeBron (for the moment), and championships are the worst “stat” to compare players. Teams win championships, not players or Robert Horry needs to be put into this discussion too. Yes, certain players have a bigger impact than others, but they didn’t win it by themselves. Kobe doesn’t have five titles without Shaq and Gasol, just like LeBron doesn’t have three without Dywane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kyrie Irving. And does the championship only count for one player? The Spurs have won five championships the last two decades, and people will use the “he has more rings” argument for both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan when they compare them to other greats. Whose rings are they? Are Kobe’s first three rings any less his than they are Shaq’s? It’s an argument that doesn’t make sense. Not to mention that if you lose in the early rounds of the playoffs, you essentially lost the championship. Why does that not count on a player’s record? The answer is because it’s an argument that doesn’t make sense, but makes Kobe look good compared to LeBron.
As for statistics, comparing Kobe Bryant to LeBron James is just disrespectful to LeBron. The two are not even close in on the stat sheet. I’ve done a blind comparison below. I’m pretty sure you will be able to figure out who is who because you are not a monster.
As I’m sure you guessed, LeBron is Player A and Kobe is Player B. Keep in mind, this is through 20 years of Bryant’s career. So, as for win shares, Kobe’s offensive total after his 14 year mark. The same point in time where LeBron is now, was 104.5, and his defensive total was 41.4. Through almost 14 years, LeBron has been worth 198.2 wins, compared to Kobe’s 145.9. It would have taken Bryant five more seasons of playing at his career average level through 14 years to be where LeBron is right now. Bryant’s actually behind Reggie Miller in win shares, who finished his 18 year career with 174.4. But I’m pretty sure Reggie Miller is nowhere to be found in the “best player ever” argument.2
While their scoring margin isn’t too drastic, their efficiency level is. LeBron shoots five percent higher than Bryant for his career. The difference between 49.8% and 44.7% in the NBA this year is 29th and 78th, which is heavily weighted with centers and power forwards in the top 30. Five percent is also the difference between Kevin Durant and Tobias Harris. Seven assists and 4.7 assists is the difference between 10th in the NBA this season and 31st. In other words, Kobe is nowhere near LeBron’s level.
Both LeBron and Kobe came straight out of high school, and both shot 41.7% from the field in their rookie season. Following that, Kobe’s best season, efficiency wise, was the 2001-2002 season when he shot 46.9 percent. Following LeBron’s rookie season, the worst he ever shot from the field was his second season when he shot 47.2%. That means that at his worst, LeBron is still more efficient than Kobe Bryant. The same holds true for effective field goal percentage, for those of you who think Kobe’s field goal percentage would be polluted by his jump shots. Kobe’s best eFG% season came in 2012-2013 when he shot 50.4%. 50.4% happened to be LeBron’s worst season, other than his Rookie campaign, back in, again, his second NBA season.
The same holds true for just about any stat. Kobe put up his best assist mark in 2012-2013, as well, averaging 6.0 per game. LeBron has averaged six or more assists per game every single year of his career except his rookie season, when he averaged just 5.9. Kobe’s best rebounding total came back in 2002-2003 when he pulled down 6.9 boards per game. LeBron has averaged 6.9 rebounds or better in all but three of his NBA seasons.
Kobe fans also seem to pick on LeBron for not being able to shoot. I have had countless arguments with people saying that all LeBron does is dunk. First, that isn’t true. Second, if it was, why would that matter? Why would you criticize a player for using his skill set to his advantage? That would be like saying Shaq wasn’t good because he couldn’t dribble.3 As for Kobe and LeBron, they just about dead even in three point attempts per game. Kobe shot 4.1 three’s per game for his career, while LeBron is at 4.0 per game, a number that will probably rise before his career is over, as he is taking 4.8 this season. He is also making 1.8 per game, which is more than any in his career. Kobe finished career shooting just under 33% from three at 32.9%. As it stands now, LeBron is a career 34.1% shooter from downtown.
There is also the clutch argument, which I cannot stand. Clutch is a relative term. A lay up in the first quarter is two points, and a lay up with five seconds is left is two points. If you perform well enough for the first 46 minutes, you don’t have to be worried about being in “clutch” situations. Also, as I said, clutch is relative. To some it means just the last shot of a game, to others it could be the whole fourth quarter. To me, it’s the entire game. Kobe has countless highlights of his game winning shots. But Kobe is also the NBA’s all time leader in shot’s missed, so there is also countless highlights of him missing game winning shots. Like his two air balls against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 playoffs. Or his air ball in the 1999 playoffs against the Spurs. You probably recall Big Shot Robert Horry’s game winner against the Kings back in 2002, a shot which Horry hit off an offensive rebound from a Bryant miss. It’s easy to forget how many times Bryant has failed when you refuse to recognize it.
There are plenty of highlights of LeBron missing game winners as well, but LeBron is definitely the guy I want to have the ball with five minutes to go, two minutes to go, 30 seconds to go, etc… because he is going to make the best basketball play. LeBron is a guy that passed up a game winning shot opportunity to Damon Jones, and Jones knocked down that corner three for a playoff win against the Wizards. LeBron doesn’t need to be “the guy” because he knows he is the guy. He doesn’t care if Kyrie Irving takes the last shot because sometimes he knows that’s what’s best for the team. From 2003-2009, Kobe had one assist in 56 last possession opportunities. Kobe was taking the shot no matter what. And that doesn’t make him better because he wants to be “the guy” it makes him stupid, because he’s hurting his team.
In that same stretch from 2003-2009, LeBron led all NBA players with 17 game winning, or game tying shots in the last 24 seconds in 50 attempts. In that same span, Kobe was 14 of 56, with that one assist we talked about before. As for LeBron, he had six assists. That means LeBron’s team tied or took the lead 23 out of 56 times, while Bryant’s tied or took the lead 15 out of 57 times. In that same stretch during playoff basketball, both Kobe and LeBron were 4-8 from the field, while LeBron had one assist to Bryant’s zero (shocking).
I am not sure what Kobe fans are talking about when they say he’s better than LeBron, or even compare him to Jordan. Sure, he played the same style as Jordan, but that doesn’t mean he’s as good. I love to jack up three’s when I play basketball, but I’m not J.R. Smith. The truth is Kobe’s not nearly as good as most think. People get sucked into the five rings thing, and it’s a terrible argument. If LeBron played three of his seasons with prime Shaq, LeBron would have won three titles with him. The same goes for if Kobe played four seasons with prime Wade and Bosh, he probably would have won a few titles. However, I am certain that prime Kobe Bryant doesn’t beat that Warriors team from last season, and prime Bryant doesn’t lead a team of Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, and Damon Jones to a championship.
Kobe may have had more of a competitive fire than LeBron, but that doesn’t mean he has more talent. And just because LeBron doesn’t show that he wants to win more than he wants to breath like Kobe, doesn’t mean he doesn’t care, or isn’t competitive. If you want a look at Kobe’s competitive fire, just check out highlights from Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns.
In my opinion, Kobe Bryant isn’t even a Top 10 player of all time, and he is definitely absolutely nowhere near the Top 3. In terms of win shares, he’s on par with John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Jerry West, and Gary Payton. All those players are very good, but no one considers them to be the greatest player ever. LeBron is still only 31 and has plenty left in the tank. Before it’s all said and done, he won’t even be able to see Kobe in his rearview mirror. Kobe Bryant will go down as an all-time great, but he’s not good enough to even be mentioned in the same sentence as LeBron James.