Kobe is Kobe. LeBron is LeBron.
With less than a minute left in the All-Star game, Kobe Bryant is mildly concussed with a busted nose. LeBron James is rolling, bombing three’s indiscriminately and getting to the rim at will. Kobe, being Kobe, chooses to guard LeBron on the last possession.
The outcome goes as follows: LeBron whips an ill-advised pass through traffic that leads to a turnover. Seconds later, with just a few ticks left, he inbounds the ball for the final possession, effectively removing him from the play. LeBron “The Inbounder” James gets the ball in. Someone other than LeBron takes the final shot. He misses it. The East takes an L.
What can you say about King James? After Bron’s cross-court turnover, Kobe, the consummate alpha, was flabbergasted. Following the play, I think he literally walked up to LeBron and asked him to grow a pair (among other choice phrases). On the next possession, when Kobe saw that LeBron was taking the ball out instead of making a play, his look of exasperation was echoed throughout the basketball universe. What are we to do with this guy—this freak of a talent who is one of the greatest players who will ever play the game, but wants nothing to do with big moments down the stretch?
Last night reminded me why Kobe will always be a greater player. He’s not as physically gifted as LeBron. He’ll never be a more willing teammate than LeBron. But he will go down in history as the greater player.
He got his nose cracked by Wade in the first half and played right through it, passing up Michael Jordan on the all-time All-Star scoring list in the process. His choice to defend LeBron at the end of the game reminded me of how he approached the Olympics. He was a lockdown defender throughout and a clutch scorer when they needed him. When it was time to stop Bron at the end of the game, he was licking his chops.
On the other hand, LeBron hides behind the facilitator label too frequently—as if being a facilitator means he shouldn’t take a big shot or two from time to time. Many of the greatest facilitators never shied away from big moments. Let’s ask Magic Johnson or Isiah Thomas if they would have settled for inbounding the ball on the last play of a tight All-Star game. Even lesser talents like Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, and Gary Payton have all shown more willingness to take on the final moment than LeBron.
If this is LeBron—if this is who he really is—I don’t know if he’s got what it takes to get to one title, let alone the multiple titles that would be necessary to put him in the conversation of greatness.