On Tuesday morning, hours after the Los Angeles Lakers dropped their third straight game to open the LeBron James era, an anti-LeBron troll whose takes are so predictable about LeBron that I don't even need to mention his name went on television and said this:
"Kobe Bryant would have made those free throws last night."
Seems true, right? The Mamba never missed in a clutch situation. Kobe's assassin mentality is so ingrained in Laker lore that he's the standard all future Lakers will be measured against. Kobe couldn't miss in the clutch. That's what sets him and his five titles apart from LeBron and his three. And it wasn't just those free throws Monday night. It was alsoas time expired in overtime. Kobe would have made that, too. And Kobe teams never would have started 0-3 to open a season.
It fits a convenient narrative about Kobe vs. LeBron.
Except for, you know, facts.
At the end of his career, Kobe missed on his final 13 attempts on game-winning or game-tying shots.
Dating back to 2000, Bryant missed consecutive free throws in a two-possession or less game with less than a minute to play 10 times. (h/t Matt Ellentuck)
Also, three of Kobe's final four seasons in the NBA began with an 0-3 start or worse.
Meanwhile, the Spurs loss was LeBron's 431st 30-point game of his career, matching Kobe's career total. And, as leading LeBron stan Nick Wright of FS1 pointed out, Kobe had exactly one of his 1,566 career games as a Laker with at least 32 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds. That's the stat line LeBron posted in Game No. 3 in the purple and gold.
But for the most diehard of the Kobe fans, those missed free throws and that missed winner were evidence enough -- in Game No. 3, when two Lakers starters were Rockets, after LeBron spent 43 masterful minutes carrying teammates like Johnathan Williams, who signed a two-way contract just days ago, on his back -- that LeBron will never equal Kobe.in a weekend brawl against the
LeBron surely knew this would be the case when he elected to come to the greatest NBA franchise of all time in the entertainment and media capital of the world. And he hasn't shied from it; he has embraced it. When the Lakers locker room opened up before his first preseason game at Staples Center a few weeks ago, I watched a dozen cameras snap photos of LeBron sitting at his locker, trying to get focused (or at least pretend to get focused during a stage-managed photo opp). But the most relevant detail was which locker he was sitting at. The locker room had just undergone a renovation, but where LeBron was sitting was essentially Kobe's old locker.
The long shadow of Kobe Bryant will stretch over LeBron no matter what he does with the Lakers this season or throughout his Lakers tenure. Unless LeBron somehow can win a couple titles in the next few years, Kobe stans will always say, stupefyingly, that Kobe is not just the greater Laker but the greater player. Moments like Monday night's ending, when LeBron willed his Lakers to the verge of an impressive comeback victory before missing two free throws and a step-back jumper at the buzzer, will be lifted up as evidence of LeBron's non-Kobe-ness.
"We'll take LeBron going to his left for a step-back jumper [every time]," Lakers coach Luke Walton said after the game.
Of course he would. That's because LeBron's either the greatest or second-greatest basketball player of all time, next to Michael Jordan. Kobe stans who lift up Kobe's five titles as proof that he's better than LeBron are perhaps forgetting that that same way of thinking would also end with Robert Horry, he of seven titles, is therefore better than Kobe, and in the running for the G.O.A.T. I never heard anyone saying, after Kobe missed a clutch shot, that Big Shot Bob would have made it.
If you want to get a little bit dumber today, type "LeBron Kobe" into Twitter's search engine and go wild. Kobe stans are using Monday's loss as "proof" that LeBron will never be better than Kobe. I'm not going to quote them here -- if you want to get dumber, go and do it yourself -- but it's exactly what you would expect.
This is insane.
If you step back from all the emotions of it, here's the truth: Kobe is the greater Laker. Of course he is. He played 20 seasons in purple and gold. He defined the Lakers for a generation. LeBron? He just played his third game in purple and gold. The comparison isn't just premature, though; it's just plain dumb.
But LeBron knew this was an inevitability of him taking his talents to Los Angeles. The pressure is greater, the comparisons more stark. The day after LeBron's Lakers fell to 0-3, Kobe's first book was released. It's titled Mamba Mentality. Presumably, Kobe fans believe LeBron should read that book, and fast. But remember, LeBron is a guy who got "CHOSEN 1" tattooed on his back before he even entered the NBA. The pressure and expectations have always lifted him up.
"I know what I got myself into," LeBron told reporters after Monday's loss. "It's a process. I get it, and we'll be fine. I didn't come here thinking we were going to be blazing, storming right out of the gate. It's a process, and I understand that."
LeBron understands that. NBA fans understand that. The sane Lakers fans understand that, too.
But the Kobe stans, who insist (after three games!) that LeBron will never eclipse Kobe's shadow? They'll never understand that.