The Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals. On the way, there has been, and will continue to be, much debate as to which star player is in fact the better player (which with apologies to Dwayne Wade, would make them the best player in all of the NBA).
Kobe Bryant, or Lebron James?
Let’s look at some stats. Kobe edges out Lebron in free throw percentage and three point shooting percentage. Those two stats verify what the eyes see, which is that Kobe is a much better pure shooter than Lebron. Also, Kobe averages less turnovers a game than Lebron.
During the 2008-2009 season, there is not another significant stat that Kobe has outproduced Lebron in. Lebron averages more steals, blocks, rebounds, assists, and points than Kobe. Up until this season, Kobe was widely considered the better defensive player, but Lebron has seemingly closed that gap considerably, to the point where both players are considered top 5 defenders in the NBA. Those stats would seem to indicate that Lebron is in fact a better overall player than Kobe, and in recent months, the general consensus of basketball fans across the country seems to agree with those stats.
The point in this argument that I keep coming back to is the fact that if you polled basketball fans across the world, there is no doubt that the very great majority would admit that if the game was on the line, that they would want the ball in Kobe’s hands. Maybe this is due to his 85% FT shooting as opposed to Lebron’s 78%, as free throw shooting late in games can win or lose games, and, if those games take place in June, championships. Maybe it’s just because Kobe is viewed as being more clutch than Lebron. Lebron is more dynamic, but Kobe seems to be more reliable, and less likely to go totally cold than Lebron.
Now, if fans of a team would rather have Kobe taking that last shot than Lebron, why do so many of those same people also feel that Lebron is a better overall player than Kobe? For me, it’s not about how you fill up the stat sheet, but it’s about what you do when the spotlight is on.
Why did I get the feeling that the Lakers losing to Utah would be a bigger shocker than the Cavaliers losing to Detroit, even though Utah was better than Detroit, and the Cavs had a better record than the Lakers? Do I subconsciously trust Kobe to WIN more than I trust Lebron to do the same?
Who do you trust making that FT? Who do you trust making the last second three pointer? Who do you trust shutting down the opposing teams best scorer in the last minute?
Of course, Robert Horry is also a guy who excelled in the clutch. Compare him to Lebron, and even if you want Horry taking the last shot, he obviously isn’t better than Lebron James. Just as in baseball, Derek Jeter isn’t better than Alex Rodriguez, even though Jeter is a much better winner and clutch player than Arod.
However, with two guys as evenly matched as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, do you give the edge to the clutch player and proven, more trusted winner, when most other things seem equal?
Does Kobe even deserve to be considered a more clutch player and winner than Lebron? Remember, Kobe has as many championships without Shaq as Lebron has. (0) Also, realize that Kobe’s team is more talented than Lebron’s, yet Lebron’s team has the best record in the NBA, and the number 1 overall seed, while the Lakers settled for second best.
Do you take the stat sheet stuffer, or the more calming, trusted player? It’s a fascinating argument, one that will likely be debated long after both of these phenomenal stars walk off the court for the last time.
Kobe or Lebron?