LeBron James is the best basketball player since Michael Jordan. He is a master scorer who doesn’t sacrifice efficiency to accumulate staggering point totals, year after year. He’s a stellar playmaker— probably the most prolific passing forward in the history of the game. Bron is a tremendous defender, a decent three-point shooter, an idiom-shattering athlete who can play four positions at an elite level whenever his team needs him too. He’s won four league MVP awards, three Finals MVPs, and has appeared in the last eight NBA Finals—something no one has done since Bill Russell’s time—managing to drag teams both excellent and fundamentally flawed to the big dance, year after year.
Tim Duncan might have provided more on defense, but he doesn’t have LeBron’s ability to blow through the competition from the arc all the way to the rim. Steph Curry can be more innovative, his maddeningly perfect three-point shooting a beacon to every elite talent pouring in triples in gyms across the country, but he lacks the sheer physical gifts of Bron. Shaq was an all-consuming, world-devouring nightmare, sure, but his night-to-night effort was inconsistent at best.
Nearly every fan base in the NBA is on board with the fundamental truth of LeBron’s supreme, era-wide domination and singular greatness. But there is one fan base that is decidedly not on board with this assessment. And LeBron just signed with their team.
Here is a tweet from SB Nation’s Lakers blog. It’s LeBron, signing his 4-year, $153.3 million Lakers contract, flanked by his agent Rich Paul and Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka. But the hat he’s wearing has his logo Photoshopped out and replaced with Laker Hero Kobe Bryant’s hideous three-pronged dominate-destroy-whatever nonsense.
It’s a pretty good joke whose message is anything but subtle: Lakers fans have been scratching and bleeding and dying and SCREAMING ONLINE about how Kobe is better than LeBron for more than a decade at this point.
They’re wrong, of course. Kobe has more titles than Bron, but the first three were acquired playing with Prime Shaq, a near-mythical low-post monster, and didn’t net him even one single Finals MVP trophy. The team went on to lose to the Spurs and, hilariously, the Pistons, in back to back years, after which Bryant chased Shaq off the Lakers in a haze of nonsense. He proceeded to wander around in the desert for several years, while organizations that weren’t in the thrall of a maniac made tremendous progress around him. Eventually his team, the most popular and well capitalized in the league, built a pair of squads from the bottom up around his madnesses, e.g. his tendency to pull the trigger on boring mid-range isolations. Kobe was a selective defender who played one position to the point of neurosis, profoundly inflexible in his approach, and openly loathed every coach he ever had, only managing to get by with Phil Jackson because everyone in the media told him he had to.
Kobe was also a prick that no one save Pau Gasol, the nicest man in the universe, and Derek Fisher, his personal ball boy, liked playing with. He ascribed to the “Republicans buy sneakers too” school of social justice (LeBron is down with the cause) and pleaded out of a civil suit that credibly accused him of sexual assault. LeBron personally went 16-6 against Kobe, and only failed to beat his ass in the Finals because Kobe did everything he could to make sure he never had to face the Heat. LeBron is also on pace to outscore Kobe in his career while shooting a significantly better percentage and netting significantly more assists. He’s just better.
Kobe was not only worse than LeBron, he was also worse than everyone else I’ve mentioned thus far: Duncan, Curry, Shaq and Bill Russell. He was a Jordan cover that only impressed anyone who didn’t hear the original. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t manage to make himself Mister Lakers, doing everything possible to capture the imagination of the squad that birthed his shrieking, placenta-soaked career, hoisting stupid clutch midranger after stupid clutch midranger on his path to transmogrifying the NBA’s most prominent organization into his own personal death cult, and there’s not gonna be much LeBron can do to take that away from him (aside from winning, say, three to five titles out of almost nowhere).
But there’s only so many years left for the Other No. 23 to play, and his young-as-shit team is tremendously ill-equipped to seriously contend this year, especially playing in a conference with the dynastic, basketball-is-a-problem-we-solved-and-we’re-playing-spaceball-now Golden State Warriors.
Some fans are already in open rebellion about being required to root for LeBron. Gather round and hear the sad story of The Mural That Tore a City Apart:
It’s nice, isn’t it? The King of LA. A tribute to the new sports hero in tow—oh sorry, what happened?
Oh dear. Well it’s OK, we can fix it! We’ll even take the “of” out, in deference to Kobe. Everything is fine…
Wonderful! Now let’s all relax and enjoy the mur…
Ugh. After more than a decade of Lakers fans making their allegiances in this matter profoundly clear, living brainwashed day and night by Kobe Propaganda, LeBron James can’t just swing into town and rip the bias out of their hearts! And so, to protect the good visage of The King, the mural had to come down:
But this soap opera isn’t over by a mile. For a whole year, maybe for his whole tenure with the team, there will be a nagging, itching, high-pitched whine from Lakers fans whose minds have been (mistakenly) made up on this matter for many years, and will never accept the truth that is apparent to the rest of the basketball-watching universe. And Lakers management, who have no intimate connection to Bryant—he’s not exactly a guy you keep around the organization to mentor youth or boost morale, seeing as he’s one of the world’s biggest dickheads—will almost certainly do a horrible job of ameliorating or satisfying those people. Look at this shirt they put out, for Chrissakes:
The G.O.A.T.! On a Lakers shirt! It’s delicious, how thoroughly the Cult of Kobe is getting their faces shoved in the pavement by this. And the best part is: LeBron does not care. He knows what the fan base is like, he’s seen his own Twitter mentions, but he wants to live in Los Angeles and produce movies and get his kids reps in LA’s excellent youth basketball scene and not play for the Clippers, so he did it anyway. This is not like when he went to Miami, where he had a superteam on the ready, or the Cavs, where he had unfinished business. This is purely a lifestyle move—an older, extraordinarily wealthy dude looking to transition into the next phase of his life and live in the city in America that treats rich, famous people the best.
This isn’t to say him winning a title in LA would be impossible. He’s amazing at basketball, the Lakers are young and growing and have the flexibility to make a trade to improve their roster, and the Warriors are depending on the talents of Kevin Durant, a mercurial fella at best. But come on, man, that’s a secondary-as-hell set of concerns at this point in The King’s life. His presence likely won’t produce gold for the Lakers, but it will dredge up pointless hatred in the hearts of their fans, and isn’t that honestly even better?