Since Kobe Bryant’s last NBA game just over two years ago, LeBron James has averaged 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists; finished top-four in MVP voting three times; played in three NBA Finals; won a title; and generally cemented his status as a top-two basketball player of all-time. Maybe Kobe vs. LeBron was a genuine debate at one point, but these last few years have put it soundly to rest. Kobe is an all-time great player. LeBron might be THE all-time great player.
With that in mind, maybe you can understand a bit why Kobe seems so crabby toward LeBron these days.
In a panel discussion published Monday on Bleacher Report, NBA greats including Isiah Thomas, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups and even Paul Pierce heaped praise on LeBron for reaching eight straight NBA Finals and doing so with mediocre supporting cast. Kobe, meanwhile, dissed The King’s accomplishments at every turn.
B/R:LeBron has three rings. He’s been to more Finals than any player in modern times. But he’s 3-6 after this series. Does that matter to his legacy?
Kobe Bryant: All I thought about as a kid personally was winning championships. That’s all I cared about.That’s how I valued Michael. That’s how I valued [Larry] Bird. That’s how I valued Magic [Johnson]. It was just winning championships. Now, everybody’s going to value things differently, which is fine. I’m just telling you how I value mine.
If I’m Bron, you got to figure out a way to win. It’s not about narrative. You want to win championships, you just gotta figure it out.
B/R: How should we weigh a star’s supporting cast? Does LeBron get credit for carrying Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith this far, or penalized for losing with them? We saw how the role players blew Game 1 of the series.
Bryant: Michael gave me some really good advice after the ’08 Finals: ‘You got all the tools. You gotta figure out how to get these guys to that next level to win that championship.’ Going into the 2010 series, I said, ‘Listen, Boston, they got Ray Allen, they got Paul Pierce, they got [Kevin] Garnett, they got Sheed [Wallace], the talent is there. They’re stacked.’ That was the first superteam. [Michael] kind of heard me lament about it, and he just goes, ‘Yeah, well, it is what it is; you gotta figure it out. There’s no other alternative.’ And that’s the challenge LeBron has. You have pieces that you have to try to figure out how to work with. Excuses don’t work right now. …
It has everything to do with how you build the team, from an emotional level. How do you motivate them? … Leadership is not making guys better by just throwing them the ball. That’s not what it is. It’s about the influence that you have on them to reach their full potential. And some of it’s not pretty. Some of it’s challenging, some of it’s confrontational. Some of it’s pat on the back. But it’s finding that balance, so now when you show up to play a Golden State or a Boston, your guys feel like you have the confidence to take on more.
B/R: Is legacy only about rings? LeBron has been to eight straight Finals—no one has done that since the 1960s Celtics. Doesn’t that mean something?
Bryant: You’ve known me long enough to know what my answer is.
Later, when a fan on Twitter pointed out that LeBron has had unfavorable matchups in many of his NBA Finals appearances, Kobe defended himself and undercut his rival at the same time, pointing out that he frequently had to face Tim Duncan’s Spurs in the playoffs.
WE had to face the Spurs EVERY post season pretty much. Not to mention the first super team in Boston but hey, what do I know 🤷🏽♂️ https://t.co/VwAXmiEWdz
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 11, 2018
The basketball internet has already spent much brainpower rebutting Kobe’s various points. The Celtics were not the first superteam nor an especially imposing one. Kobe actively clamored for more help on several occasions. No one can simply “figure out” how to win when facing great players. But ultimately, Kobe doesn’t want to hear that, because he, like his loyal online defenders, will entertain no argument except “ringzzzzzz.”
Of course, Kobe is welcome to believe what he wants about his career and how it compares to LeBron’s. He is far from the first pro athlete to overrate his own excellence. The crappy part of all of this is his insistence on tearing down LeBron to build himself up. Instead of letting fans and media debate his standing among the basketball greats, he feels the need to argue on his own behalf, thereby coming off as a petty, self-absorbed narcissist.