When Kobe Bryant debuted in the NBA in 1996, there were some people who said that the Los Angeles Lakers made a mistake to trade for the rookie straight out of high school and that he was more flash than substance. Those people had to eat their words not long after and the one who made them do that was Kobe himself. He became the clear heir to MJ’s throne and until LeBron James came into the league in 2003, Kobe stood alone. We are not trying to diss other stars in that period, but Kobe was ahead of them. By miles.
And then, in 2003, just as Kobe’s legendary three-peat came to an end, the league got its first glimpse of a young man who would give Kobe a run for his money, both on the court and also in innumerable debates around the world. Soon enough, the NBA became all about who was better – Black Mamba or King James?
On one hand, you had (have) people who preferred Kobe, his old-school competitiveness and toughness. It is also impossible to deny him his titles, his awards and scoring prowess which ranks among the best ever. On the other hand, you had Camp LeBron. His fans have always valued the hard work he put in, the incredible athleticism and his insanely high basketball I.Q. LeBron has also always been more about the team than individual accolades and for many people, this means everything.
One of the biggest “tragedies” of modern NBA is that the two best players in the last 20 years never faced off in the NBA Finals. The timing was never right and we just never got to see that Kobe – LeBron Finals that would have been just epic. After yesterday, not only are we never going to see that Finals, but we will never again see a game where Kobe and LeBron will face one another. Yesterday, in Staples Center, we saw the last matchup between these two players.
True to their traditions and individual approach to the game, both of them played their trademark games. Kobe was shooting early and often, scoring 26 points on 16 shots. On the other hand, LeBron scored “only” 24, but he also dished out 7 assists and grabbed 5 boards. LeBron’s Cavaliers did win the game, but it was Kobe who won their separate matchup with the following move in the first quarter.