The debate is over. Well, at least for now. Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world, Lebron is second. I have never seen an NBA season focused more on one player then it did this year. Lebron James was the talk of the season with his triple doubles, high scoring, and signature play: the chase-down block.
Lebron had a great year, an MVP year, leading his team to the best record in the NBA. However, Lebron’s season came to a screeching halt when the Boston Celtics came to town. The “old” Celtics who finished the season limping into the playoffs, beat the leagues best regular season team. Not only did Boston win the series, they won convincingly. James got his numbers, but make no mistake; the Celtics shut the superstar down. They caused the most physically gifted player in the world to loose his swagger.
Games 3 and 5 of the series, he looked lost. These pivotal series changing games, Lebron James seemed to mentally take the games off. His lackadaisical attitude trickled down to everyone else on the team. Lebron denied those allegations, but spectators in the stands and people watching at home could see it in his face. He seemed uncomfortable on a basketball court. Sure, the Celtics had resurgence and a deeper bench, but Lebron wasn't able to will his team to victory with a much younger and faster squad.
And then you have Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba. Lil Wayne made a rap song about him for a reason. Bryant’s hunger to win starts in training camp and isn't satisfied until he hoists the NBA trophy above his shoulders. I saw an interview recently of Kobe explaining how he got his different moves. He stole them. He’s taken the moves of Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and many others making them his own. At 31, Kobe is still very much a student of basketball. No matter how many years he plays in the league, he is willing to learn.
Now here we are, June 8th. Bryant is again in the NBA finals, and again doing it without Shaq. Sure, Pau Gasol is a very solid player, but Kobe is the reason they are 3 games away from having their second consecutive parade in the downtown streets of sunny Los Angeles. Some criticized Kobe last year in the finals for being too nasty and gritting his teeth. It got the job done. It's passion and drive that makes him great. All NBA players have talent, but what elevates the select few to legend status is motivation.
Prominent sports writer Steven A. Smith said it best, “He’s the best player in the game, it’s just that simple. There’s nothing that Kobe can’t do. He will defend your best player, he will shoot from the perimeter. He will get all in your mug, he will do whatever it takes. He is the most complete basketball player in the game today, ball or not, and he has an assassin’s mentality.”
Tonight is game 3 in Boston. Some out there think since the Celtics won game 2 that they have momentum. I would feel that way too, if Kobe Bryant wasn’t going to be on the hardwood. He's fired-up. He's mad about his sub-stellar performance in game 2. He's mad that Lebron’s free-agency has overshadowed the finals. He's mad that people think he's lost a step. When Kobe is mad, he responds. Like Jordan, Kobe loves when the world doubts him. It becomes sweeter when he proves them wrong. And he will, starting with game 3 tonight.