While Miami Heat forward LeBron James was accepting his third MVP award in four years on Saturday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was doing what he has done so often in his career – winning with his back against the wall.
James enters elite company, becoming only the 8th player in league history to capture three MVP awards. He deserves the recognition, especially after being slighted last season, yet it’s still a hollow accomplishment for someone who anointed themself “King” and hasn’t hoisted up a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
James’ plaque distinguishes him for play in the regular season, a recognition Kobe has only won once in his career; however, LeBron’s three MVP’s weigh significantly less than the title Kobe has hoisted up five times throughout his career.
What does this mean, though, as one player continues to thrive in his prime and the other struggles to make it out of the first round?
Despite James’ unmatchable stat line – he averages 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game – Kobe remains the better player when it matters most.
Kobe was able to battle off stomach flu as well as a barrage of media punches last week, following the Lakers’ embarrassing game 6 loss to the Nuggets on Thursday.
He told reporters after the loss he didn’t believe his teammates matched his effort, and he was right to do so.
Rather than submerge under the pressure, he rose to the top, refusing to let his team fall in the first round and leading the Lakers to an almost predictable 96-87 victory in game 7. After the victory, a reporter asked Bryant about the transition in his style of play between game 6, when he shot the ball 23 times in 37 minutes to finish with a team-best 31 points, and game 7, when he shot only 16 times in 45 minutes and deferred to teammates down the stretch of the game, finishing with eight assists.
In response, Kobe only offered this much: “Five championships…it’s not difficult to win games.”
Call Kobe what you want – selfish, arrogant, cruel – but make sure to follow it up with “But, he’s a winner.” He has proved he is the NBA’s best when it matters most. He doesn’t need to say it; his five championship rings do it for him.
While LeBron’s MVP trophy may have received the top headlines on Sunday, Kobe and the Lakers stayed alive and continue to be a looming threat in these NBA playoffs, despite their shabby performance in the first round.
Only Michael Jordan’s performance in 1988-1989, when he averaged 32.5 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and 2.9 steals on 54 percent shooting, are comparable to LeBron’s this season, which means a lot; however, this isn’t the first time James and Jordan names’ have come up in conversation together.
The only thing between them is six championships. The distance seperating Kobe and LeBron is similar – five championships.
While one man is undoubtedly the “King” of regular season awards and recognitions, the other remains what he has been for some time – a world champion.