I still want the Suns to win, but when I think of someone who has decided to be at the absolute peak of his profession, 24/7/365, it's Kobe, not LeBron. The question is, if Kobe was two-thirds through his career (this is his 14th season), and stayed roughly at the same level of effectiveness for another five to seven years, would it be fair to call him the greatest basketball 2-guard ever? I have to say, Yes. He's more crafty and skilled than Jordan -- like a combination of Steve Nash and Jordan, minus the athleticism. He's more feared than Jordan in the clutch -- how many game-winning threes did Jordan hit in his career? Surely not near as many as Kobe. Add to that that Jordan played fifteen seasons, while Kobe jokes that he's "old" -- he's only turning 32 in August. Surely he can be as effective as Grant Hill, who is 37.
But anyway, what a series. Go Suns, go Kobe. Beat that jerk Kevin Garnett.
And so, as No. 24 laces them up for what could be a decisive Game 6 against the Suns in Phoenix on Saturday night, this would be a good time to remind everyone that, in many quarters, Bryant is now considered only the second-best player in the NBA.
Not in my book. Not yet. And probably not even next year, no matter where LeBron is playing.
The question of whether The King had surpassed The Kobester began to be asked quietly a couple seasons ago. Bryant was still the pick of most, but he engenders such enmity that many fans and journalists just couldn't wait until the NBA became LeBron's League.
But let me propose another simply but often overlooked reason that Bryant remains superior to LeBron: Kobe is a better basketball player. Not a better athlete, which sometimes gets lost. A better basketball player. He dribbles better, passes better, has more ways to score and understands the game better. Which is not to say that LeBron is inferior in any of those areas. He is great. But he's not as good as Bryant.
To differentiate between Bryant and James, the Suns' Grant Hill, who has been charged with guarding both, turns to a baseball metaphor.
"LeBron has the pullup jumper and he takes you to the rim," said Hill. "He has the two pitches, and, trust me, both of them are great. But Kobe is like the guy with all the pitches. He brings his fastball, his change, gives you something on the corner. LeBron will overpower you but you might know what's coming. With Kobe, you're never comfortable."
There is also that ineffable something known as will. Earlier this season Orlando's feisty Matt Barnes was standing close to Bryant when he feigned throwing a ball at Bryant's face. Bryant never even flinched. "That scared me a little," Barnes said later. "I mean, that wasn't even human."