“The Great Debate”
[Guest Blog by marklawrencescott]
Not quite the Shapely-Curtis debate, but Kobe v. Lebron has in recent weeks reached something of a fevered pitch. For the most part, the dividing line falls between statistics and aesthetics: those backing Lebron cite his superior numbers, while Kobe supporters point to the grace of Bryant’s more polished and refined game. But this oversimplifies matters; as the debate has raged on, all sorts of questionable metrics and rubrics have been employed in pursuit of some kind of definitive answer: who’s a better teammate; who’s more likeable; how many rings have each won; who’s prettier; who raped a white girl; etc. Thus far, every compelling argument for either player has an equally compelling counterargument. There really is no way clear way to settle it, which only further entrenches each side into their respective positions.
I can’t say for certain who is better; I’m not an expert, I’ve never played the game. I don’t know what is the true measure of a player’s greatness. And I get the feeling by reading what the “actual” experts are saying that they don’t either. Jerry West says Lebron has “surpassed” Kobe; Jeff van Gundy says he’d take LBJ for the first three quarters, but Kobe for the fourth; and so on. So, for me, it comes down to personal preference, and I prefer Kobe. Simple as that. I simply enjoy watching Kobe play much more than I enjoy watching Lebron. But don’t get me wrong, I definitely find Lebron exciting; he’s an amazing athlete that has each year worked on and improved nearly every aspect of his game. He’s absolutely tremendous: the blocks, the dunks, the passes, the step-back forty-footers, all of it. However, his game is clunky: it’s a combination of his linebacker-like lumbering and his slightly clumsy duck-footedness. He lacks that smooth balletic quality of a Dr. J or a Jordan. There’s something almost post-apocalyptic about how Lebron plays, the way he moves. Like he’s John Connor come back from a bleak and ravaged future to prepare us for the world that awaits us. A savior who offers no redempiton. Or Snake Plisken playing for his life under strange and confusing rules:
Kobe, on the other hand, moves with a kind of total finesse that forces you to look in new and exotic places for comparison. His is the sort of game, that when you picture it in your head, is always in that dramatic kind of super-slow motion–maybe with that annoying piano number from the playoff commercials. With his seemingly limitless arsenal of moves, Kobe expands and clarifies the grammar of the game: a prescriptive grammar: the way the game should be played, but tremendously difficult for many people to understand or to follow.
But all metaphors aside, the thing that really draws me to Bryant is an almost childlike belief that whenever he’s on the floor, I’m going to see something incredible, something near-impossible. Like anytime I watch a Lakers game I feel like I might be watching the greatest game ever played. Not that it always is, or ever has been, but it might be. He elicits that kind of belief. Who knows when he’ll drop another 81.
Often times greatness is associated with composure under pressure, delivering the goods when it counts. And Kobe in fourth quarter of a close game is must-see. Kobe in the fourth is the closest I get to religious; I believe–at times irrationally–in his ability. Lebron in the fourth, however, is often under-whelming, if not outright infuriating (why can he still not make clutch free-throws?) Kobe has that “killer instinct.” Lebron doesn’t. Not yet, at least. That’s why I’m a Kobe man: he’s greater when it matters most. And while James likes to cast his persona in a thin veil of biblical references, Kobe is much more the humanist: fuck Salvation, I’m creating a heaven here on Earth.