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Mike Beas: Kobe vs. LeBron

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One turns 31 in August and is a soon-to-be four-time world champion. The other is 24 and doing everything in his power to emulate one Michael Jordan short of marrying the same woman.

There was a time when Bryant meant Bear and James meant Edgerrin. Not here. Not now. Although in the case of Kobe and LeBron, both players are so magnificently talented and their first names so globally recognized that surnames don't even need to be part of the discussion.

Say "Kobe soared for two" and visions of a yellow-clad No. 24 with the tradition-heavy purple Lakers lettering come to mind. Mention LeBron and a headbanded No. 23, an unstoppable force on a basketball court at 6-8, 265 pounds, is being played over and over on our mental projectors.

Kobe or LeBron?

You're starting a team. Money is no object. Whom do you pick?

Though Kobe has what likely amounts to an insurmountable 4-0 advantage in championship rings, I would have to go with LeBron. Yes, he's sporting a big, fat zilch when it comes to NBA titles, but Jordan was 28 when he won his first. Same holds true for Bryant's former teammate, Shaquille O'Neal.

Besides, LeBron is playing in a city, Cleveland, not exactly known to be pro sport's version of a four-leaf clover. The Browns have never been to a Super Bowl much less won one, and the Indians last won a World Series 61 years ago before spending much of the 1960s, '70s and '80s replicating the odor inside one of the Municipal Stadium men's rooms.

And have you seen James' supporting casts? Take him out of the equation and Cleveland is the worst of the NBA's 30 teams. The Cavaliers would be so downright pitiful that they might actually envy anyone wearing a Sacramento Kings uniform.

James catches a lot of grief for his 10 ringless fingers, but he doesn't have the luxury of a lane-clogging Shaq down low, a Lamar Odom on the wing or a Pau Gasol making garbage hoops underneath. Sad thing is, in Cleveland he might never.

PARTING SHOTS: We get it. Jack Nicholson is at the game. If only ABC's cameras would quit focusing on the sunglassed geezer as if he's one assist shy of a triple-double. Don't care if Nicholson is there. Don't care if Denzel is there. Don't care if all three cast members of the original Mod Squad are rocking front-row seats. There are stars on the court. Remember . . . basketball.

Secondly, at least twice in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' victory last Sunday night the Magic were whistled for fouls on Bryant when replays revealed no contact whatsoever. Apparently Bryant can toe the free throw stripe if some guy in the seventh row sneezes or the slightest of breezes is generated by a group of buddies whistling at the Lakers Girls. But the guy is a star, and the NBA takes care of its best and brightest.

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