Kobe Bryant gets the best of LeBron James, maybe for the last time

HOUSTON -- Sitting here in 2013 and knowing what we know now, it feels like a long time ago that the "Kobe or LeBron" debate was one of the fiercest in all of sports. 

In terms of historical contexts, that debate won't be settled for another 10 years, but with one player hitting his prime and the other finally coming down from the mountain top, it's pretty evident that Kobe has passed the torch firmly into LeBron's hands. 

Kobe's team is sinking, LeBron's continues to rise. Kobe's career is beginning the twilight phase, LeBron is in the middle of his prime. Kobe has begun adjusting his game, LeBron is putting together historical stretches of play.

But that doesn't mean that The Black Mamba still can't get the best of The King, at least every now and then. 

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For the fourth quarter in closely contested 143-138 win for the West, Kobe switched over to defend the reigning MVP and NBA champ, assuming the great challenge of slowing down the freight train that is LeBron.

"He does that all the time," LeBron said. "I am absolutely not surprised. It was all in good spirit. It was just two guys who love to compete, love to go at it. It was a lot of fun."

Here's why we're talking about it though: On two different occassions, Kobe stuffed LeBron. Like put it right back in his face. Which is notable, because LeBron really never gets blocked. 

Kobe's first block came during a fairly crucial moment in the game. With 2:39 left and the West holding on to an eight-point lead, the ball was in LeBron's hands which of course meant that the East had a chance. Kobe was all over it and the ball bounced to Kevin Durant who took it to the other end for an empthatic dagger dunk. 

"It was a great block," Durant said, who finished with a game-high 30. "I haven't really seen any MVP get a jumper blocked like that. It was a really great play. Kobe is a great player."

And of course, Kobe let LeBron know about it.

“Me? Trash talk? Never. I don’t do that. I’m a nice guy," Bryant said postgame, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "But I didn’t want him to score on me. Damn it. I gave him two free throws down there. It was a great, great post move.”

Said LeBron of the post-block talking: "A little bit of everything. We were just talking about the game and the moves we were making out there on the floor. It was all in good spirits.”

Kobe's game wasn't necessarily vintage Mamba, but more present Mamba. He facilitated (eight assists) and scored less (nine points, 4-9 shooting). But Kobe -- a nine-time first team defense selection -- has always been known as an intense, tough defender. Plus, he's crazy competitive, in any setting. And he knows the current situation with LeBron and how things have changed between them. So I'm sure he relished that moment.

"I've been in the league this long and played in so many All-Star games, I've seen many generations. I've seen pretty much three generations," Kobe said. "My first All-Star Game, having to guard Michael, that was like a dream come true for me. He took me to school several times, but I learned quite a bit. Then going on to Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and that whole crew and now to LeBron and D-Wade and some of those other guys, I've seen three generations."

All-Star games don't matter, they don't count. But they are fun. And it's those little moments like LeBron and Kobe going at each other that make it so.

"We both respect each other at the highest level," James said. "I think we respect everyone that’s here but it doesn’t surprise me at all. At some point in the game when we play the Lakers, we always guard each other and especially in the fourth quarter it gets very, very competitive.

He’s one of the best players that we have in this league, still, at his age. What he’s able to do out on the floor still today is unbelievable."

Dwyane Wade -- who famously gave Kobe a bloody nose and concussion last All-Star Game --summed up what to make of LeBron and Kobe's showdown perfectly.  

"Nothing," he said. 

And he's right. It was five minutes in a meaningless All-Star Game. Kobe and LeBron appear to be headed in different directions, but regardless of the window dressing, that was sure fun to watch. 

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