*Based on 05-06 stats.
I was actually not a Kobe fan in the beginning. He was arrogant, a ball-hog and Shaq was right there just pass the ball to Shaq give the ball to the Giant you twerp! But I was born and bred to be a Lakers/Dodgers/UCLA fan so I had to keep giving him chances. Inevitably, as true greatness does, #8 won me over and after hating him at every stop I could, I became a Kobe Bryant fan (at least of his on-court activity.)
And then came Lebron, and along with him, the most famous debate in sports today:
So I was at some bar, arguing with this girl I’d just met about the whole Kobe v. Lebron thing. She was dark-haired, good-looking, not to mention wrapped up in a scarf of a skirt, but I was drinking and I do tend to get a little righteous with the spirit in me. So when she started chirping up about how not just the Lakers but all of LA would be so much better off with Lebron than Kobe, I just wasn’t going to contain myself.
“Look,” I sucked up a swig of truth, “Kobe has 3 rings, plays defense, and is the best scorer since Jordan. Yeah, he’s arrogant, yeah, he tried to pass off his sex stuff on Shaq, whom he subsequently ran out of town, and yeah, he bought a $4,000,000 my bad for his ‘Nessa. But on the court, I’ll be damned if he isn’t a competitor in the greatest sense of the word - 81 points when his team was trailing in the second half?! Come on, Lebron is great, but he’s just not at Kobe’s level yet.” She was hot, but she was wrong, and I felt like letting her know why.
“Ha!” She spat, “You want to talk on the court performance, let’s talk stats.” I perked up, statistics and a mini-skirt? This could be some kind of dream girl. “Kobe averaged 35.4 points to Lebron’s 31.4, a difference of 4 points. But Lebron averaged 6.6 assists to Kobe’s 4.5, and that is a difference of 2.1 assists which would mean at least 4.2 more points for the team, and despite the way #8 plays, basketball is a team game. Adding up Lebron’s assists and points, he’s 45 points per game, to Kobe’s 44. Plus, Lebron grabs 7 rebounds a game to Kobe’s 5.3, plays more minutes and shoots 48% to Kobe’s 45% -- and his team won 5 more games. Stats don’t lie and statistically, the comparison is made apparent, we have nothing to argue about. And he’s bitchy and a rapist.”
“How do you know all that?”
“Sportscenter is always on in the gym I go to.”
“Oh, well...” I could’ve stopped there, smiled, bought her a drink and taken a shot. We could’ve talked about something other than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, anything, danced even. But it bugs me to no end when people think that they know sports just because they remember statistics. “…while those numbers are correct, they are semi-bogus statistics. First of all, an assist is not an assist is not an assist. A three pointer is worth one assist, an 18-footer is worth one assist, and a foul followed by two successfully converted free throws is worth nothing. Assists, as a statistic, are confounded by team performance. And he was never convicted of anything.”
“Yeah well, it all evens out in the end, that’s the law of averages.”
“It all evens out if all things are equal, but they are necessarily unequal because their teams are made up of different people with different abilities. I wish I had a stat for how many times Kwame Brown missed a layup after being set up by Kobe, same thing goes for Lamar Odom. While Zydrunas Ilguaskus can hit a jump shot with regularity and Drew Gooden actually dunks it when he’s under the basket. Assists are two statistics, really.”
“So, now you’re saying assists don’t matter.”
“No I’m not; I’m saying that it is a statistic created by more than one player, accredited to one in a manner irrespective of the points scored. Basically, they don’t tell the whole story of the play, which is what a statistic does -- it tells the story of the play or player as fully as it can in numbers. Bill James baby, Bill James.”
“Who’s Bill James?”
“It doesn’t matter. Look, the next time you watch a game, keep your own player stats, but instead of points and assists, try these. First, shots created for teammates, not made shots, just shots attempted in assist-type situations. This number better illustrates exactly how often a player is looking to set up his teammates, not just how often they successfully convert. Then, total shots created, this would be the number of shots created for teammates added to the number of shots individually created (like a post move, or a drive). This number will better illustrate how dangerous the player is. Then, points created for teammates, which is like assists except a two pointer counts as two points, a three as three, and free throws count, too. Points scored is already a pretty full story, so keep that one. Try adding that same points scored to points created for teammates and you’ll get total points for team which should give a more full idea of what a player means to his team.”
“But how do I know when a shot is created by a teammate or by the individual?”
“How does a referee know when a foul has been committed? He watches, as intently as he can, then he makes a judgment call. This is the problem with numbers, not that stats lie, but that statisticians lie. Any statistic is a numerical interpretation of an event, and any interpretation is ultimately as limited as its interpreter. There is no way to objectively say that Lebron James is a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant.”
“His team won more games.”
“In the East, where the 4 bottom playoff seeds are basically .500% teams and the rest are out and out bad teams. In the West, the Jazz finished out of the playoff race, but in the East, they would have been the sixth seed. Plus, the Lakers were 45 and 35 with Kobe in the lineup and 45 and 37 overall, while the Cavs were 47 and 32 with Lebron in there and 50 and 32, overall. That means that the Cavs went 3 and 0 without Lebron while the Lakers were 0 and 2 without Kobe.”
“Lebron can dunk from the free throw line.”
“Now that is true. Lebron is the most athletic man in the world, his inherent combination of strength, coordination, and speed is unparalleled. In his own way, he is just as much a human anomaly as Shaq, maybe even more so. When you watch Lebron James out there, he is, physically, a man amongst boys. And he’s 21 years old! The guy has a tremendous upside and may end up the greatest ball player any one has ever seen. And his dunks are certainly, all over Sportscenter.”
“But so is Kobe.”
“Yes and no. Kobe’s gameplay is not on Sportscenter as much as people discussing his history and image are. Kobe as a character is more reported on than Kobe as a player. And Lebron’s ability to fly is all over Sportscenter because dunks are great highlight reel material; Kobe just doesn’t throw it down in the same way.”
“Well, at this point in his career, Lebron James is the greatest basket player ever, statistically.”
“Maybe, Wilt Chamberlain would have something to say about that, but even still Lebron isn’t the greatest basketball player in the league yet, any one who watches Kobe and him play on a regular basis will tell you that Kobe can do more on the court than Lebron can at this point. Kobe just has more weapons; he’s an infinitely better long range shooter, a much better defender, and better in the clutch -- he doesn’t have that bazooka dunk that Lebron has, nor the corresponding physicality. Lebron may become the greatest ever, but maybe not -- hey, Dwight Gooden certainly never got any better. And the reason Kobe’s field goal percentage is not higher than 45% is the number of late-in-the-shot-clock bailout shots he has to take.”
“And Lebron doesn’t take those shots?”
“Not at the same rate. Look, this whole argument comes down to watching the games. Stats are just that, stats. How about this, we’ll sit down and watch the next Cavs game and then the next Lakers game and we’ll compare the two as we go? We’ll make a couple of dates of it, and see where it goes from there.”
She scribbled something down on a card, then handed it to me.
“All right, here’s my number, give me a call sometime.”
I shoved the card into my pocket and told her she’d hear from me soon. A couple of days later, I pulled it out, dialed her up and reached a laundromat. Of course, I suspected as much when I saw the words, I guess you were right, numbers can lie written next to her entirely erroneous phone number. I guess I should’ve just said Lebron.