I hated LeBron James, for years. Hated that people kept talking about him, because when I heard his non stop praise, in my mind it came at the expense of my favorite player of all time, Kobe Bryant. Every time somebody spoke about his Magic Johnson-level passing, I heard it as shade towards Kobe’s more aggressive style of playing basketball.
And then I grew up.
I think it’s worth exploring why I and a lot of my fellow Lakers fans disliked LeBron so much. I started watching basketball roughly around 2000, but I really got into it in a big way around when Shaq left. To me, Kobe wasn’t just my favorite basketball player, he was basketball to me. There was no League Pass, I barely watched any games that didn’t involve the Lakers, and I fell in love with Kobe’s nightly displays of brilliance. I was never ready to let go of the fact that Kobe was not only my favorite player, but the best player in the NBA, and like people hold onto music from their childhood, I held onto that and reveled in LeBron’s failures. (Remember #LeChoke?)
And then I grew up.
There is a HUGE difference between somebody being the greatest player of all time, and a player being your favorite of all time. Kobe will always be my favorite player ever, but we need to let go of one simple fact, that is oddly controversial with a segment of the fanbase: LeBron is better. LeBron is a Top 2 player of all time in my opinion, with Michael Jordan in grasp depending on LeBron’s remainder of career. Kobe Bryant to me is lower in that conversation, and not in the same tier as the aforementioned LeBron, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tier.
Now you may ask, why does this matter? Why are you talking about this now?
The truth is, I am a little fed up about how my appreciation for LeBron meets resistance from a lot of people with “mamba” or “24” in their Twitter handle. I’m also fed up about how we all look to tear things down that are getting appreciation (this is not limited to sports in the least and a hallmark of Internet culture). I want to make sure that we appreciate greatness in the moment, the same respect we demanded of others that sought to tear Kobe’s heroics down in the moment. How many people did we want to crush who made 6/24 jokes after the 2010 NBA Finals? Why would we turn around and diminish the greatness of somebody else just a few years later, then?
There’s another angle to this, that will make things gloriously fun and complicated for many: I believe LeBron James is joining the Lakers. I have no sources, all I have is the information that’s publicly been reported going back to the past summer and rumors that have simply not gone away, even as LeBron enters his stunning eighth consecutive NBA Finals (read that again: 8!!).
LeBron has left a team that lost in the NBA Finals before, he has given Cleveland everything he has, and I expect him to don the Purple and Gold this summer. I don’t, for a moment, want to see, hear, or read any discussion about “Kobe vs LeBron”. I want it to be a celebration, a validation of the struggle over the last few years that the team has gone through, a validation of Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss’ leadership. Most of all, it will be a validation that the Lakers still mean anything.
Look at it this way: If the Lakers manage to sign LeBron James, the Lakers will have representatives covering at least 50% of the 10 greatest players of all time. Let’s recognize LeBron as near the top of that pillar, and welcome him with open arms and acknowledge the spot he’s earned in NBA lore.