LeBron understands comparisons to Kobe
MIAMI — If LeBron James were some guy sitting home in his La-Z-Boy or on the playground talking trash, he'd undoubtedly have an opinion on the top player in the NBA.
That's why the Miami forward doesn't get too bent out of shape when he hears comparisons between himself and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. They've been the most decorated NBA players in recent years, having combined to win three of the past four MVPs, three of the last six scoring titles and five All-Star MVP trophies in the past six years.
"The fans are going to have fun with it, who they like, who they dislike and who they like more than others," James said about the running debate as he prepares for Thursday's first meeting this season with Bryant. "And that's what's great about the game."
After all, when James was growing up in Akron, Ohio, he had his NBA favorites. That was long before he became a legend himself.
"I was a (Michael) Jordan guy, I was an Anfernee Hardaway guy and a Grant Hill guy as well at times," James said. "A lot of my friends liked other players. When I had Jordan, I said, ‘That's my favorite player. There's no way you can dispute that.'"
The debate recently has been whether Bryant or James is today's best player. Perhaps it's not a fair comparison now considering Bryant is 33 and James just turned 27.
Then again, who has a higher scoring average this season? That would be Bryant, averaging an NBA-high 30.8 points while James is second at 29.8.
"Kobe is playing some great basketball right now," said James, who sometimes guards Bryant and might due so more than usual Thursday due to Heat guard Dwyane Wade a good bet to miss the game with a sprained right ankle. "He's shooting the ball extremely well, and that's part of the reason why they're winning (10-5) … He's a great player. He's kept his body in shape, so it's not surprising (he's still going strong at 33)."
Bryant recently had a stretch of four straight 40-point games. James is averaging 34.0 points in his past two, which includes a scintillating 17 points in the third quarter of Tuesday's 120-98 win over San Antonio.
So, who's the top guy in the NBA? The debate will continue to rage when they meet again at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday.
"It's conversation," said Heat forward Chris Bosh. "It's been like that in the NBA since the inception. Is it Bill Russell? Wilt Chamberlain? Kobe-Jordan? Kobe-LeBron? It just always goes on. It's an ongoing argument. That's what makes it so great. I'm sure there will be a few people with their Kobe jerseys on (Thursday). It'll be a lot of trash talking."
Bryant supporters quickly will point out their guy has five NBA titles to none for James, although three came before James even entered the league in 2003. But, surprisingly, James has at least gotten the best of Bryant in the regular season.
Of the 16 regular season games James has played against Bryant's Lakers (14 with Cleveland), James has won 10. The two have never met in the playoffs, though, which would mean the Finals, since they've always been in opposite conferences.
James has averaged 26.9 points against the Lakers, compared to Bryant's 24.9 against James' teams. But in his first three games against James' Cavaliers, Bryant once didn't play, once logged just six minutes and another time played just 17.
So, if you just take into consideration the last 13 games between the two, Bryant is averaging 27.8 points and James' 27.2. That's practically a dead heat.
"We haven't had an opportunity to meet in the playoffs, in the Finals, but it's always good to go against each other," said James, who will also run into Lakers coach Mike Brown, his Cleveland mentor from 2005-10.
"[Kobe's] probably one of the best players that we have in the league and a five-time champion, and his resume speaks for itself. He's still playing at a high level, which we all knew he would, so it's fun."
James' resume isn't too shabby, either. So, let the debate continue.
"It's fun from a basketball standpoint," said Heat defensive specialist Shane Battier, who has tried to guard both Bryant and James throughout his career. "That's why the NBA is great. You can relate. You can get behind certain guys and root for them."
Sides will be taken when Bryant and James face each other Thursday night, and they'll do it again March 4 in Los Angeles. Maybe this also will be the season they finally meet in the Finals.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.