Sports

Why LeBron James is Clearly Better than Kobe Bryant

| by The Sports Columnist

On this day in time -- mark it down as May 4, 2010, 11:07 a.m. EST -- LeBron James is a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant. Period. Enough said. L.A. fans can keep up the "M-V-P" chants all they want, but their boy is no longer the Association's best player.

And it pains me to hear the talk-radio guys give themselves a bad name -- wait, sorry: most of them already have one -- by saying things like, "Well, until LeBron wins a championship, he's got nothing on Kobe." Um, yes -- he won't have the hardware that Bryant has with his four NBA titles, but that, folks, doesn't mean he's not as good of a player.

Which brings me to the obvious point of the column: LeBron James would embarrass Robert Horry in a game of one-on-one. Horry's got seven rings. James has none. Doesn't matter.

James deservedly destroyed the field in MVP voting this year, winning the award for the second consecutive year in a landslide vote. Anyone who voted against him ought to be barred from the process (or maybe life in general): see below. You shouldn't even need stats to see that James is clearly the NBA's best player, but just in case:

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This season, James averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game for the best team in the Association. He shot 50.3 percent from the field despite constant double-, triple- and quadruple-teams and played in 76 games for a 61-win team.

"M-V-P, M-V-P!" shout the L.A. fans upon arriving at Staples Center in the second quarter and seeing Kobe hit a fade-away jumper. Um, fans: Bryant averaged 27 points, 5.4 rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game. Numbers not even close to James'. Bryant also shot just 45.6 percent and played fewer games than James (73).

Bryant was so far off the radar this season, the seven votes James didn't get for MVP weren't even for No. 24 in L.A. They were for Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard, who both had great years and led their teams to good records and the playoffs. But are you serious? How could seven human-being voters not choose James? That's like calling Fleetwood Mac better than the Beatles. Ludicrous.

But back to the Kobe-LeBron "argument." LeBron haters say that they'd rather have Bryant in a big game, that they'd rather have him taking the big shot in crunch time. This, of course, is extremely short-sighted and has nothing to do with the players the two have become. Yes, over his 14-year career, Bryant has made many more "clutch" shots than James. He's hit more playoff winners than James.

I wonder why. Um, maybe because he's been in the league twice as long as James, not to mention on a championship contender for almost the entirety of his career. I cringe when people say that James has been a playoff failure. Really? Well, consider this:

He's only lost one playoff series that his team should have won -- against Orlando a year ago. Outside of that, James' squad fell to a much better and more experienced Spurs outfit in the 2007 playoffs; and in '08, he gave an incredible effort in a second-round matchup against the Celtics and a healthy and *young Big Three. Before '07, James did an admirable job of boosting the Cavs from the bottom of the NBA to the playoffs within three years, where in '06 they came a game away from the conference finals.

So, yeah, you can't ask much more of James' first six seasons in the league. And without much of a supporting cast until last year (read: Mo Williams signing, and this year the Shaq signing -- albeit, he hasn't contributed much), he's done all he could. He's developed into a tremendous team player who knows when he needs to take over games. And, yes, he's clutch in late-game situations (read: No player can bring his team back from an 11-point deficit in three minutes). You might have forgotten (heck, I did, too) that James had 44- and 49-point nights in the two close loses to the Magic last year. I'm going to climb a limb and say he did just about all he could.

So go ahead, LeBron haters. Say Bryant is better. It's as flawed as a moldy pita. What you can argue, still, is that the Lakers are a better team than the Cavaliers. I won't argue it, because I think, despite Boston's shocking, dominating Game 2 win in Cleveland last night, Cleveland is en route to its first NBA title. But there's an argument to be made.

Which also, it turns out, makes my LeBron-is-better-than-Kobe column.

The Lakers' supporting cast is better than Cleveland's. Not by much, but better all the same. Meaning, of course, that James has to do more than Bryant for his team. Pau Gasol is the best player not named Bryant or James on either team. He's developed into a reliable low-post threat who can be counted on when Bryant's outside shots are bricking. Antawn Jamison, on the other hand, is getting old and is much more of an outside player at this point in his career (translation: streaky). So that's that.

Williams has at times been an able backcourt sidekick for the King. But did you see him last night? He got manhandled, owned, by young Rajon Rondo. You think Derek Fisher, creaky bones and all, would have let that happen? I'll take the reliable Fisher over Williams by a hair.

And then the Lakers have their defense-rebounding guys in Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. Yes, they tend to take games off -- presumably, these are the game when Artest jogs to the liquor store during halftime and Odom is too busy thinking he can shoot 3s to do what he does best -- but they're still better and more able than anyone Cleveland can offer.

I could go on, but it's pretty clear that L.A. has a better supporting cast than Cleveland.

And, yes, the Cavs have the better team (at least I think). They've won more games.

So what gives? It's simple, really: They've got the best player in the NBA. And it's not even close.

And the next time I hear an "M-V-P!" chant, here's to hoping it's coming from the famished fans in Cleveland. Because as good as Durant was this season (and he'll only get better), as dominant as Howard was defensively (but where's the offense?), and as clutch and scary as Bryant remains, there's only one best player in the Association right now.

And it isn't debatable.