Kobe Bryant dawns the cover of the current issue of GQ magazine, in which his interviewer artfully and systematically delves into the heart and mind of a mad scientist.
But far more than any psychological profile, for me the piece served as further—perhaps even final—affirmation of an ironclad, hardwood belief I’ve had now for the last seven years. For those of you a bit slow in translation, that would be the season LeBron James came to be, at least on the NBA stage, exacerbating the still side-dividing, gut wrenching inquiry of who you wit: Kobe of LeBron?
For me, that would be Bryant. And more than any of the magic both of them ooze on the regular, I turn to a passage in that aforementioned GQ expose to detail the level of mind-over-matter dominance Kobe yet holds over a LeBron.
Think back to a two-weeks before Christmas, during a ho-hum beatdown the Lake Show was inflicting on the Timberwolves when Bryant broke a finger on his shooting hand, prompting longtime L.A. trainer Gary Vitti to reflect: “We been through a lot of shit, but if you can play with this, all the pain? That’s some shit.”
Kobe being Kobe, not only did he play, he went on to finish the night with 20—playing left handed. Word is Bryant’s digits are still so mangled, he and and Shaq stand a better chance of being championship-swilling buds again, or even collaborators on a remake of Shaq’s ‘Kobe How My Ass Taste’ before his hand is expected to be even partially healed. But nonetheless, he’s averaged 27 and five (assists) in the mishap’s aftermath to easily keep L.A. on track in its quest for back-to-backs.
That’s the legacy and legend on which Bryant stands. Sure, in this time, at this moment, The King clearly reigns as the more physically gifted of the two men. And he may yet be better at the oft- bantered-about attribute of making all his teammates better. But admit it, aren’t there still times when the game remains in the balance that you’d simply rather see LeBron—as unquestionably the best player on the floor—just do the damn thing?
And that’s what catapults Kobe Bryant ahead of him. Somehow Kobe has become Jordan (think circa ’98) without never really quite measuring up to him. Even as his body is beginning to show signs of perhaps breaking down, his indomitable spirit continues to will him to dimensions no other baller displays a set of skills capable of reaching.
It’s that will and determination that largely accounts for this year’s historically unprecedented six—and still counting—game winning buckets. It’s why most of the smart money and nearly all the pundits are back on the L.A. bandwagon as they seek a return to the promise land.
LeBron, you’re still my man. It’s just that when it comes to the NBA, there can really be only one king. And he just so happens to be the same guy he’s been for the last seven years. —Glenn Minnis