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Kobe VS LeBron – who is considered better?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann / Staff
*Updated 2021
Basketball fan or not, you’ve probably witnessed the following debate: Who is a better player? Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Although they never played a single playoff game against one another, the comparison is inevitable. Both came to the NBA straight out of high school, both were/have been very dominant since their early years, and both made a huge impact on the league. They are both first-ballot Hall of Famers, with a combined nine championship rings together, and counting. While Kobe died in January 2020, the NBA – and fans the world over – still mourn the loss of this basketball legend, and part of remembering his legacy is engaging in such debates about his unquestionable skills.
So, when it’s Kobe vs. LeBron, who would you pick?  Here are three arguments for either of these NBA giants being better than the other.


Three reasons why LeBron is better:


LeBron is a better clutch player

While Kobe fans argue that he was a better clutch player (the one who makes the most important shots, especially in the game’s last minutes) than LeBron, this claim is far from reality. LeBron, who does not choke, is a better clutch player, and this argument is backed by stats. A look into Kobe vs. LeBron regarding clutch-time stats proves LeBron is better than Kobe was in the most important time of the game.


The greatest players are the ones that make the others around them better

In terms of being a team player, there is no comparison between Kobe and LeBron. The latter is a smart player and fantastic passer, with a vision of a crafty point guard. He can create a shooting opportunity for himself in every position but will happily pass the ball if his teammate has a better shot. In contrast, Kobe was thought of by many as a selfish player, who hurt his team’s harmony, as was pointed out in the Phil Jackson biography. Kobe was ambitious but also arrogant in a way that led him to make bad on-court choices more than once. In contrast, LeBron’s teamwork and leadership shined after he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, taking them to four playoffs in his first four years. His leadership skills have since gotten stronger since joining the LA Lakers in July 2018. Lifting up one’s team is the mark of a great player.


LeBron has less championships, but his name is written all over them

When Kobe played, he had a better supportive team around him, both on the court and in the coach position. Three out of Kobe`s five rings were won together with Shaquille O’Neil, possibly the best center to ever play the game. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, although none of them is a hall-of-famer, make a fantastic supportive team. Moreover, Kobe won his five rings with former coach Phil Jackson, who many argue is probably the sharpest basketball mind to ever exist.

Meanwhile, LeBron won his first two rings as part of the Miami Heat`s trio. Aside from Dwayne Wade, LeBron’s supportive team lacked the quality that Kobe`s support had. LeBron won his championship third ring against a team that scored the best regular season record ever. LeBron won the finals’ MVP award and was the most dominant player in every championship he won. He might have fewer championship rings than Kobe had, but he played a bigger part in achieving them.


Three reasons why Kobe was better:


Kobe was a more complete player

LeBron might be more dominant player, but Kobe was a more versatile and well-rounded player, which gives him the edge in this debate. While LeBron is an all-around player, with explosive power that makes him almost impossible to guard, he lacks instinct and on-court elegance and style. In comparison, Kobe was a virtuoso on offense, a better finisher and a better defender. He also had amazing anticipation and instincts that were perfected with Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. The Phoenix Suns’ forward, Grant Hill, who guarded both players, told Sports Illustrated: “He [LeBron] has the two pitches… both of them are great. But Kobe is like the guy with all the pitches. He brings his fastball, his change, gives you something on the corner… With Kobe, you’re never comfortable.” When it comes to Kobe vs. LeBron, the latter is great but the former was something truly special.


Kobe had something that LeBron doesn’t

A huge part of Michael Jordan`s legacy was earned on the day he won game five of the 1997 finals in Utah, when he dropped 38 points (including a clutch 3-pointer) with flu-like symptoms, including an extremely high fever.  This is what makes a legend. Similarly, Kobe took over game four in the 2000 finals with an injured ankle. He also won finals with a damaged index finger. His work ethic and ambition were inspiring. He was a rip-your-heart-out-and-watch-it-beat-in-his-hands kind of player, regardless of his physical condition.

While LeBron can demolish every opponent, many argue that his spirit is different than Kobe’s. It is thought that LeBron lacks the magic touch that Kobe possessed, which sets a player apart from the rest. The ability to perform when it matters most, against all odds, which Kobe did repeatedly, defines real legends.


Kobe was a better defensive player than LeBron

Defense wins titles. Sure, you have to be a good offensive team, obviously, but in the nerve-racking finals, having a better defensive team has, historically, made winning the title more likely. In the Kobe vs. LeBron debate, both players were/are huge talents with enormous offensive abilities. While LeBron was named six times in the NBA All-Defensive team,  Kobe was named 12 times in the NBA All-Defensive team. The latter’s defensive contribution was key in breaking up opponents’ movements and starting counterattacks. This diverse skill set gave him more of an ability to lift up his team in any stage of the game.


The Bottom Line: While LeBron is much more of a team player than Kobe was, and is more dominant and holds better stats, Kobe was a more versatile and complete player, a virtuoso with amazing skills and defense abilities. So, in the Kobe vs. LeBron debate, which of these two NBA superstars outshines the other? Who, in your opinion, is considered the game’s best player?

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