The Ultimate NBA Comparison: Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James
5/26/2009 6:51:51 PM
With all the commercials and marketing strategies pitting Kobe Bryant and LeBron James together, I thought I would give my opinion on the comparison between “The Black Mamba” and “King James”.
Let’s start with some historical perspective.
A year after Kevin Garnett became the first player since Moses Malone to skip college to go to the NBA, Kobe Bryant entered the NBA in 1996 after graduating from Lower Merion H.S. in Ardmore, PA. Although receiving a 1300+ on his SAT, Bryant decided to skip college for his dream: to play in the NBA.
The 1996 Draft was arguably the deepest draft in history. Bryant accompanied fellow All-Stars Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Marcus Camby, Jermaine O’Neal and Peja Stojakovic in this esteemed draft as he was selected as the #13 pick.
Although he was drafted by Charlotte, he was traded on draft day to his childhood favorites, the Los Angeles Lakers, for Vlade Divac.
One year later, Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Lakers after playing his entire career with the Orlando Magic. At this point, Kobe was a reserve. However, due to his fanfare his second season, he was voted to start in the 1998 All-Star Game despite not being a starter on his own team.
From 2000-02, he and O’Neal won three consecutive NBA Championships with the Lakers, giving head coach Phil Jackson his third championship trilogy (1991-93, 96-98 with the Chicago Bulls). At age 23, Bryant became the youngest player to ever win three NBA championships.
Over the span of these championships, a kid named LeBron James entered high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s H.S. in Akron, OH as a 6-foot-2 guard with a lot of potential. Going into his sophomore year, LeBron grew four inches and was a two-sport star, ranking as the best football player in the state of Ohio in his class and the best player overall in the state in basketball.
During this sophomore season (2000-01), LeBron was named Gatorade Player of Year for the state of Ohio and set history, becoming not only the first sophomore to be named to the USA Today All-America First Team, but he was also the first underclassmen, period.
Over his next two years of HS, LeBron was arguably the most-hyped high school player since Kobe Bryant, becoming the state player of the year two more times, and also being named the USA Today and Gatorade National Player of the Year twice. He played regular season games on ESPN and graced the cover of SLAM and Sports Illustrated magazines. Months heading into his final days in high school, the McDonald’s All-American Game committee decided to move their prestigious game to Cleveland.
After declaring for the NBA Draft, ironically, Cleveland gets the No. 1 pick and they select LeBron in arguably the best draft since 1996.
The similarities in how they both got to this point are uncanny. However, their games are not. Kobe is an assassin, a diabolical offensive machine with a will to win and a strong disdain for losing. His defensive prowess stems from his on-the-ball hawking of fearful opponents.
LeBron is a basketball wizard, able to do anything on the court with effortless athleticism, skill and grace. He is a triple-double threat whenever he steps on the court. He plays defense like a cornerback who anticipates a pass, waiting for the best moment to make an interception or a ferocious knockdown.
Since being in the league, their paths were very different. Kobe came to a team that had recent playoff success. With the addition of O’Neal, the two became an unstoppable duo. However, through all of their success, Kobe was the second fiddle. His scoring increased, finally breaking the 20-point mark as the LA Lakers won their first championship (22.5 ppg in 2000). His scoring average with Shaq peaked at 30.0 points per game in 2002-03.
In 2004, the dynasty was demolished as both O’Neal and head coach Phil Jackson left. Jackson returned in 2005, but after O’Neal’s departure, so did the championships. However, Kobe’s individual success went through the roof.
Since Shaq left in 2004, Kobe has averaged 29.99 points per game, but he has never matched his career-high of rebounds, assists, or steals, all made during the 2002-03 season.
Scoring-wise, he has been a terror, leading the league in scoring twice (2006, 2007) and set several records. He scored 81 points on January 22, 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, the second highest single-game scoring total in NBA history. He also became just the third player (and Laker) since 1964 to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. That season, he scored 40 points 27 times.
In 2007, his scoring tear continued. In a four-game stretch in March, Bryant scored 65 against Portland, 50 vs. Minnesota, 60 on Memphis and 50 against New Orleans, becoming only the second player in history to score 50+ in four consecutive games.
Over his career, Bryant has been named to the All-Star Game every season since 1999, the All-NBA First Team six times, and the All-NBA Defensive first or second team nine of the last 10 seasons.
As for LeBron’s career, his records are based on overall statistics, not scoring. For instance, in 2007-08, he became just the third player in history to average at least 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game in a season. He is also the second player in history to post five consecutive seasons of averaging at least 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
However, scoring-wise, LeBron has led the league in scoring (2008) and made his first All-Defensive First Team in his sixth season (Kobe earned his first in his fourth year). LeBron also won his first MVP (2008) in his fifth season in the league, and has been named first or second team All-NBA and to the All-Star Game every year since his second season in 2004.
In 2004, LeBron became the first Cavalier and youngest player ever to win the Rookie of the Year award. He joined Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in their rookie season. That season, he also became the youngest player in history to score 40 points in a game.
Since 2006, the Cavaliers have made the playoffs every season. The season prior to LeBron, the Cavs went 17-65. In his rookie season, the Cavs improved by 18 wins to 35-47, and then to 42-40 in 2005. Except for the 2008 season, the Cavs have improved in wins every year LeBron has played with, including getting one win away from tying an NBA record by going 39-2 at home this season.
LeBron has never averaged less than 20 points, 5 rebounds or 5 assists per game in a season for his career.
Now…after laying out everything, the comparisons can be begin, but they must be broken down into categories. Due to several factors, this comparison is not fair unless you compare different eras. For instance, since Kobe didn’t become the sole star until 2004-05, you could compare Kobe’s last five years to LeBron’s last five years. The problem is that Kobe is at his prime and LeBron is just hitting his.
Secondly, a fair comparison is age. One can compare Kobe’s first six years to LeBron’s first six years. However, this comparison is skewed as Kobe had Shaquille, thus thwarting his individual statistics, but also won championships due to Shaquille’s presence.
Kobe’s career averages are 25.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46.7% from the field, 84% from the free-throw line and 34.1% from the three-point line.
LeBron’s career averages are 27.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 47.1% from the field, 32.8% from the three-point line and 73.8% from the free-throw line.
The stats don’t lie, but it depends on the scope. I personally think at this point in time, Kobe is the greatest player in the NBA, but LeBron is catching up to him. I also believe that LeBron is better at 24 years old than Kobe was. I’d rather build me team around LeBron, but I’d rather let Kobe shoot the last shot to win the game.
Kobe is a better on-ball defender, LeBron is a better shot-blocker. Kobe is a better shooter, LeBron is a better penetrator. LeBron is more athletic, Kobe is more methodical. LeBron is faster and stronger, Kobe is quicker. Kobe is more clutch, LeBron is more versatile and unselfish.
Kobe vs. LeBron would be a great championship matchup, but I don’t think it will happen this year and I’m actually rooting against both of their teams. I guess I just like the underdogs, something Kobe and LeBron, as players, are neither.
To read more from Kyle “Scoop” Yeldell, create a profile on YourFINDit and join “The Inside Scoop” network. Follow his articles, blogs and press releases after becoming a member of his network on YourFINDit and be up-to-date on the nation's top sports stories.