Kobe or LeBron?
It’s a debate that has sounds ridiculous at this point because one of them is sitting at home planning field trips to Chicago, New York and Miami, while the other is making reservations for the NBA Finals.
The more we watch Kobe Bryant, the more we begin to realize that the title of “Best Player in Basketball” clearly belongs to him at this point in time. Sure, LeBron James put together an outstanding 2009-10 season and deserves to be in the MVP debate, but the conversation starts and ends with Bryant.
The bottom line is this: Kobe is simply head and shoulders better than anyone else in the sport. He is the most decorated player in the league in terms of records and accomplishments, he’s without peer when it comes to pure basketball skill, he has an incredible drive, toughness, focus and determination, and no player in the league is more feared at the end of the game than The Black Mamba.
Just ask Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
“Every time we got it close, Kobe made an incredible tough shot that is well defended,” said Gentry, whose team lost 4-2 in the Western Conference finals because they simply couldn’t hold Bryant in check.
In six games against the Suns, Bryant averaged 33.7 points and shot 52% from the field and 43% from the 3-point line. And in the series-clinching Game 6, he scored nine points in the final three minutes to fend off a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Suns.
“I’ve always been a big fan of his, and he knows that, and I’ve always thought he’s the best player in basketball,” said Gentry. “He didn’t do anything in this series against us that made me think otherwise. As a matter of fact, it probably solidified my thought process that he’s the best player in basketball right now.”
Better than, dare I say, Michael Jordan?
“Now, I’m not going to get into that. I might work for the Bobcats some day,” Gentry said. “All I’m saying, at this time right now, he’s the best player in basketball. It’s not even close.”
When you think about it, Bryant has been the best in the league since 2006. That was the year he averaged a mind-boggling 35 points per game and lit up Toronto for 81 points. But, for some reason, voters gave Steve Nash the MVP that year and the following year the same voters gave Dirk Nowitzki the nod.
Bryant finally got the media’s attention in 2008 when he collected his first – and only – league MVP trophy. But the past two seasons, basketball writers have developed such a man crush on LeBron that Bryant has become almost an afterthought and didn’t receive a single first-place vote. Are you kidding me? We’re talking about the reigning Finals MVP and undisputed best closer in the game. He pulled the Lakers out of the jaws of defeat six times during the regular season. Six times!
“Kobe’s so good he makes incredible normal for us,” says Laker teammate Lamar Odom.
After the Suns cut the Lakers lead to three at the 2:19 mark in the fourth quarter of Game 6, Bryant decided to take it upon himself to pull his team out of a tough situation. He got the ball on the wing and buried a jump shot over Grant Hill and Channing Frye to give the Lakers a 101-96 lead with under two minutes left. Then, with 35.2 remaining, Bryant put the game away when he drove past the Suns bench, rose up over Hill and swished a fadeaway shot from about 22 feet to make it 107-100. Ballgame!
“I’m not sure if those are shooters’ shots. Those are scorers’ [shots]. You know, best-player-in-the-game type shots,” Steve Nash said of Bryant’s fourth-quarter baskets with a high degree of difficulty. “He is incredibly skilled and talented, and he’s a great competitor – and clutch. He deserves an incredible amount of praise.”
Bryant finished with a game-high 37 points – his 10th 30-point game in his last 11 playoff games. He now has 75 30-point games in his playoff career, tying him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Michael Jordan holds the record with 109 30-point games.
“Just had to keep attacking, trying to stay aggressive,” he said. “They had help coming from the weakside, with traps and things like that, and made it difficult for me to get to the basket. So, I just had to create a little bit of space and raise up. It looks like a tougher shot than it actually is. I got a good look, got my legs underneath me and was able to knock it down.”
Gentry got a great view of Bryant’s ridiculous fall-away shot over Hill, who played it about as well as any player could defend it. Unfortunately, Bryant was just too good.
“After I knocked down the shot, I just heard him mutter something like ‘That’s BS!’ Something to that effect. It just made me smile. I just padded them on the butt,” Bryant said of his sideline encounter with Gentry.
“I mean, what can you say about Kobe?” Gentry asked.
“There’s an intense game going on and you almost have to laugh at what he does,” Gentry said while shrugging his shoulders. “I thought we played great defense on him and he just made tough shot, after tough shot. I thought Grant was going to block his shot. You realize that was a fall-away 3-pointer with a hand in your face, off-balance. That’s who he is.”
When asked what he told Bryant as he fell back into the Suns bench after swishing the game-clinching shot over Hill, Gentry said: “I said ‘Good defense’ to Grant and [Kobe] said ‘Not good enough.’ ”
Kobe was just too good.
Video courtesy of NBA.com