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Written by Mark Grey   

LeBron James (left) Kobe Bryant (right) 

by MARK GREY

There isn't a sports fan in the world who hasn't weighed in on the topic of who is the better player: Kobe or LeBron. What started as whispers as far back as two seasons ago has turned into full fledged screams. Basketball fans and writers alike were ready to pass LeBron Kobe's title as the best player in the NBA. While there is no doubt that LeBron has arrived in the debate, their meeting this past Sunday was a prime example of big brother showing little brother who still wears the crown.

The Lakers' 10-point victory over LeBron's Cavaliers on Sunday served as the perfect ending to a 20-day run in which Kobe showed the world he is still the best player and that his Lakers are the team to beat. In an 11-game stretch dating back to his first meeting with LeBron this season, Kobe has been nothing less than great. It all started with a 17-point victory over the Cavs in which the game was blown up after Kobe opened the 4th quarter with nine quick points, all the while defended by James. Bryant went on to finish the game with 12 assists as the Lakers handed the Cavs just their 8th loss of the season. Two nights later, Bryant went on to record his second triple double in three games and his fourth game in a row with double digit assists in a win over the Clippers. Up next was a game with the Wizards -- otherwise known as a night off -- before the big showdown with the Spurs. In what was billed as a preview of the Western Conference finals, Kobe dropped 22 points on the Spurs before sitting out the 4th quarter as the Lakers handed over a double digit loss. Two nights later, the Lakers fell to the Bobcats in an overtime loss where Kobe fouled out with 38 points.

A victory in Memphis was then overshadowed by the loss of center Andrew Bynum for 12 weeks. Questions began to surface about the Lakers' toughness and whether they still were the team to beat. Critics began wondering if Kobe still had it in him to carry this team...they didn't have to wait long to get an answer. Sure enough, Kobe came out and dropped 61 on the Knicks and sent a message to the NBA that he can still score whenever he wants. The next big test for Kobe and the Lakers was a match-up with the defending champion Boston Celtics on their home court. Despite having an off shooting night, there was Bryant again with three fourth quarter three-pointers to give his team its first lead of the half. The Lakers went on to win in overtime, beating the Celtics for the second time this season.

Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)For the second time in less than a month, the two best players in the NBA were set to take the same court. Although the game took place in a different city, the result was still the same as the Lakers handed the Cavs their first home loss of the season. While Kobe, battling the flu, only scored 19 points, it was when he scored them that sent the message. After overcoming a 10 point half-time deficit, the Lakers appeared to have the game in hand as an under-the-weather Bryant rested on the Bench for much of the fourth quarter. With less than three minutes left, the Cavs had cut the lead down to 4 points and the Lakers were in need of a basket. That's when Bryant, being covered by James, had an "it's not you, it's me" moment as he hit a turnaround jumper over James that sealed the game. It was a real life Daniel son/Mr. Miyagi moment: there was the younger James playing perfect defense on Bryant forcing him to take an impossible shot, and there was Bryant making that impossible shot. Bryant had to shoot the ball so high it was out of the screen on TV, and the look on both James' and Bryant's faces said it all. James stood there looking like, "what more can I do," while Kobe jogged back down the quarter with a look that said "we aren't losing this game." The Lakers victory concluded a 6-0 road trip that saw them beat two teams that were a combined 47-3 at home.

Now, Kobe playing great for an 11-game stretch is nothing new; it's the different aspects of greatness that he displayed over the stretch that showed he may be better than ever. He showed his willingness to pass with four games of 10 plus assists. He showed his ability to rebound, defend, make clutch baskets, and that he is still the best scorer in the league. But what he really showed was what a leader he has become. In the fourth quarter of the Cavs game, there was a familiar sight: Kobe yelling at a teammate. However, this time, instead of yelling for the ball for himself, he was yelling that Lamar Odom, who had the hot hand, must get the ball. What we are seeing now is a Kobe whose only goal is to win a ring. While LeBron and others still work to win awards and break records, Kobe has already done it all. He has the MVP, the offensive awards, and the defensive awards too. He has already scored fifty points 24 times in his career...and who can forget his 81? The knock on Kobe has always been that he doesn't make the players around him better. Well, this season, Bynum and Gasol are playing their best basketball ever. After being benched to start the season, Odom is playing at an All-Star level since returning to the starting lineup. With Kobe now making his teammates better, even his hardest critics are running out of flaws to point out.  The only thing left for Kobe to conquer is more titles, thats when you know you are truly the King. 

 

 

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