I can’t really tell you why I think about Kobe and LeBron so much. It might be because I hate Kobe more than I should and I love LeBron’s game more than I should. Maybe it is because they are some of the best at what they do, but they do it in such different ways. Every person has an extreme opinion of each, you either love them or you hate them with no middle ground. Kobe doesn’t care what you or I think about it and LeBron might care a little bit too much. With however you look at it, they really are some of the best, but they got to where they are in very different ways.
A while back, I wrote about these two in crunch time and how they react in different ways(take a look,http://www.tornbysports.com/lebron-when-the-heat-is-on/) . Since then I have thought about the desires they have to win championships. Both are in very good positions to win this year much like every year.
Kobe has had solid teams since he has come into the league. And four or five years into his career he was a key part in a mini dynasty with Shaquille O’Neal. We all know how their partnership ended; a couple of big time egos getting the best of their owners and splitting up two of the biggest forces in the league. Shaq had three NBA Finals MVPS to go along with the Lakers’ three championship trophies. This left Kobe as the wingman, the Robin to Shaq’s Batman.
While Kobe must have been pleased with three titles, being anyone’s Robin just was not going to cut it for him. While causing O’Neal’s exodus, Kobe had to know that winning championships without Shaq would be much more difficult; but he wanted the challenge. He wanted to be number one and maybe more importantly, he didn’t want anyone to be able to doubt it. Kobe struggled the next few years with less than stellar teammates and a part of me wonders if he regretted forcing Shaq out. And then Gasol came, and Bynum developed and Kobe had two trophies he could finally call his own.
Kobe(and Shaq) has been criticized so much over the years(I am included in this party) for splitting up a duo that could have done so much more. Who was going to be able to take those two out of the playoffs when they were healthy and getting along? But you also have to recognize, and love, Kobe’s ultra-competitive spirit, his desire to be the best and leave no doubt about it. Maybe he could have done it another way, but having Shaq around always provided a ceiling for him. He could not be the best when he wasn’t the best on his own team. He couldn’t dominate games and stretches of seasons when he could depend so heavily on another. And for wanting no ceiling, for wanting to know how much he could truly do, I have to respect him for that.
LeBron on the other hand came into the league as a savior for a tortured franchise; instantly being the best and most important player on his team. He carried awful teams to sixty plus win seasons which was incredible in itself. But in the playoffs, better rounded opponents with deeper teams took him out. Frustrated with management not giving him enough support, LeBron made The Decision to look for greener pastures.
While Kobe’s pride kept him in LA in a situation that for a long time was too much even for him to handle, LeBron showed a humility not often seen in someone who is the best at what they do. He knew he needed help and was willing to sacrifice pride, shots, glory, credit in order to have a better shot at winning. He still finds himself as the best player and most important on his team, but now he is able to depend heavily on another superstar in Dwyane Wade, like Kobe was able to do early in his career.
Kobe removed a ceiling so he could take on a greater challenge and to find out how great he could become. And this is the worst part about LeBron’s decision; he placed a ceiling on his career that wasn’t there before. I don’t know how many athletes come by in a lifetime that really don’t have ceilings. For all of Lebron’s unselfishness and the lack of desires he has to have all the credit- a trait that helps make him the best basketball player alive and a great teammate- it ultimately led to a ceiling that limits how great he truly can be while playing with Dwyane Wade.
And while both Lebron and Kobe desire greatness… and championships, one has to wonder which path will lead to ultimate greatness. There is the self-serving star who thinks no challenge is too great for him, the one who wants to reach the absolute peak of his powers. And there is the selfless, team-first star who for the time being has put a cap on what his powers can do.
And maybe that is what fascinates me so much about comparing these superstars. While they are both headed for greatness- they are doing so on very different paths. Both lead their teams to victories, but in very different ways. They are similar in some ways, but in many of the most important ways, they are polar opposites. Maybe the best way to see which path is better is in the NBA Finals, when they are battling head to head in a game seven. And make no mistake, in big games and in the final minutes, Kobe will be guarding LeBron and LeBron will be guarding Kobe, because if it is one thing that we do know, it’s that opposites attract.