In what may be the most active Twitter night of my entire life, I was asked to compare the respective careers of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant at age 28 (LeBron’s current age). Whoa, that was a mouthful. Put more simply, at this point of LeBron’s career, who had a better one, him or Kobe Bryant?
I know this debate could go on for days, hell it could go for weeks. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith have been talking about it every day on First Take for the past four years (I’m pretty sure they settled on Tim Tebow being better than both). But I’m going to try to do it in one post.
Regular Season Stats
To start, let’s look at per game regular season numbers for each (again, this is only until they were 28 years old).
LeBron James – 27.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48.9% FG, 74.6% FT, 39.8 MPG, 35 Triple-Doubles (oh my God…)
Kobe Bryant – 24.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.3% FG, 83.% FT, 36.2 MPG
Is it even close? ‘Bron wins every category except free throw percentage by a pretty wide margin. Not looking good for Kobe here…
EDGE: LeBron James
Again, this is pre-28, so this basically comes down to the Adidas Crazy 8’s and the Kobe 2’s (the moon boots, baby!) vs. all of LeBron’s shoes. For the record, I like the current Kobe shoes (the 5s-8s, specifically) better than the LeBrons, though.
EDGE: LeBron James
Regular Season Moments
I don’t really have any way to settle this fairly; both players have been so ridiculously good during the regular season that it’s basically impossible. But if you look at awards…
- Kobe had one more scoring title (2) than LeBron (1).
- Kobe had 5 All NBA First Defensive Teams, LeBron has 4.
- LeBron has 3 MVP awards and when Kobe was 28 he had…none.
Screw it. I’ll take the MVP’s.
EDGE: LeBron James
Worst Career Moment
LeBron James – The Decision
Kobe Bryant – The Rape Thing
This is going to sound bad, but from a pure hoops standpoint, LeBron’s actually affected his basketball legacy more.
EDGE: Kobe Bryant – I AM NOT CONDONING RAPE, I AM NOT CONDONING RAPE, I AM NOT CONDONING RAPE, IS THAT CLEAR?
LeBron James – 28.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46.9% FG, 74.5% FT, 8 Triple-Doubles
Kobe Bryant – 23.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 43.9% FG, 79.6% FT
Again, LeBron’s numbers are way better (I know Kobe’s pre-28-year-old numbers are all smaller because of Shaq, but don’t worry, we’ll get there).
EDGE: LeBron James
More Likely to Offer a Really Mean, Snarky, Tweetable Soundbyte
“AMNESTY THAT” (‘But Doug, this didn’t happen before 2007!’ Shut up.)
EDGE: Kobe Bryant
There’s a million things to try to digest here, so let’s keep it simple:
- Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal – This both bolsters and cripples the Kobe argument: On the one hand, Shaq was probably the best player on those championship teams (he was, after all, the best center in NBA history at his peak). On the other hand, if he weren’t there for the beginning of Kobe’s career, Kobe’s numbers would have been much better.
- LeBron has had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for a few years – I know D-Wade and Bosh are good, but are they equal to Shaq? Ehhhh…
- Kobe’s dickishness was plenty evident in his early years – He drove away Shaq AND Phil Jackson for pete’s sake!
- LeBron has been too playful, also to the point of dickishness. Take this clip, for instance…
(I just watched this 5 times.)
The Clutch Argument
The general consensus is that Kobe is more clutch than LeBron, and I get how that feeling makes sense. With his well-documented empty playoff fourth quarters, it’s hard to make an argument for LeBron as more clutch than Kobe. But at the same time, I wouldn’t go so far to call LeBron a choke artist, as others would.
This is the big one, right?
Kobe had three rings, and LeBron has one. BUT, LeBron has a Finals MVP award, and Kobe did not. Still, three rings to one is key here.
LeBron’s disappearing act against Boston (that link kind of creeps me out, by the way) was absolutely inexcusable, and will tarnish his legacy forever.
EDGE: Kobe Bryant (although it’s closer than most Kobe fans would care to admit)
For me, the defining factor between LeBron and Kobe’s formative years is the role each player had on his respective team. For the most part, Kobe was the complimentary piece (a really friggin’ good one, but still a compliment) to Shaq’s alpha male status. However, LeBron has been the focal point of every NBA team he’s ever been on. Even as an 18 year old, he was expected to be the leader, captain, and everything else. Maybe LeBron’s numbers and achievements are boosted because of the climate he was forced to play in. I’m not sure. But it’s necessary to at least mention and understand this factor.
I know the argument everyone wants to make is that LeBron’s legacy will never be as great as Kobe’s because he joined the Miami superfriends, but I just don’t think that’s fair. For the last two years, I don’t think there’s been any question that this is LeBron’s team. In the same way you wouldn’t say Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were the ones truly responsible for Kobe’s last two rings, it’s not fair to say D-Wade and Bosh won LeBron his first.
Before writing this post, I never thought I’d ever say this (and I feel sort of queasy writing it), but I have to say that LeBron James has had the better career to age 28 than Kobe has. Despite Kobe’s edge in NBA Championships (and I know some people will say this is all that matters), LeBron has been the centerpiece of his team for the past decade, and has dealt with more pressure to perform than any player in the NBA, ever. Pre-age-28, Kobe never had the same target on his back that LeBron did. Think about it this way: the ’96-’04 Lakers were the “Shaquille O’Neal Era,” but once LeBron entered the league, he was never part of anyone else’s “era.”
When you add this fact to the outrageous numbers LeBron has posted, and the accolades and awards he has received, I just can’t make the argument for Kobe.
FINAL EDGE: LeBron James
Now here’s the frightening thing: Kobe’s most meaningful years didn’t happen until after he was 28. I would say that his past seven (check my math on that) years have been more impressive than his pre-28 years. If LeBron is already ahead of Kobe (as I just spent 1,000+ words trying to prove), where can he go from here? Has he even peaked? Ten years from now, am I going to be writing a piece (which, by then, I’ll hopefully be getting paid for) comparing the total careers of Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Don’t rule it out.