The biggest story of the NBA playoffs this year has to be the failure of the Cleveland Caveliers, holders of the best regular season record, in the second round. Doom-sayers all over the world declared it the defining moment of LeBron James’ career, a statistic-collecting, highlight-producing, regular-season-MPV-winning machine who “just doesn’t know how to win.”

The worst part of all this is smug Laker fans pounding their chests and claiming incontrovertible proof that Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James. It’s possible that he is, but you can’t really make that claim until both of them have retired and we can fully assess their performance.

There seem to be three main arguments here.

1. Bryant is a better individual player than James

Kobe is unquestionably a better three-point shooter. He’s also less prone to turning the ball over, and more effective from the free throw line. But LeBron shoots a higher percentage and scores more overall, and has a clear lead in rebounds, steals and blocks. At this point James has the statistical edge, although Kobe has proven himself more than 1,000 games. Let’s check back when both their careers are over.

2. Bryant makes his teammates better than James

This argument is pretty subjective. Sure, Kobe has played in and won more NBA titles than LeBron, but he also has had far stronger supporting casts for most of his career. There have been reams written about Bryant’s difficult personality and selfishness, whereas James seems like a fun guy to play with and does average more assists, but without actually being in the locker rooms of both teams it’s difficult to make a call.

3. Bryant wins championships, James does not

You can’t argue with the facts – Bryant has four titles, James has none. However, for three of Kobe’s titles, he was playing with one of the top five centres of all time, in a team coached by probably the greatest coach of all time. Let’s face it, LeBron hasn’t had those kind of opportunities, being hamstrung by poor coaching at the very least.

The harsh reality is that if James plays with mediocre teammates for the rest of his career and never wins a championship, he won’t go down as one of the greatest of all time, and Kobe deservedly will be regarded as the better player. For now though, I wish NBA fans would save their breath and argue about something else.

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