sportstapas
A little dishing on sports

Frank Isola Needs An Alibi

A few months ago, Daily News columnist Frank Isola wrote a piece in which he made the spectacularly idiotic assertion that Kobe Bryant was a superior player to LeBron James, “by a lot, actually.”  I apologize for not linking to it, but I haven’t been able to find it.  You see, I remember it vividly because I started a blogpost in which I was going to argue against his position, but abandoned it because it felt a bit like arguing that Shaquille O’Neal is taller than Nate Robinson.

I accept that Kobe was considered the better player for a  number of years, but I simply don’t see how any rational person could have made the argument, two months into this year, that any individual was playing the game of basketball at the high level LeBron had reached.  Here is a guy with Magic Johnson’s court vision, Michael Jordan’s athleticism and Karl Malone’s body.  He is a force of nature.  He can get to the basket anytime he wants, has a good and improving perimeter game and guys bounce off of him like he’s Jim Brown, when he gets into the paint.

And that’s not the best part of his game!  LeBron made a pass from the left side of the foul circle and as I watched with the benefit of, you know, supposedly being able to see everyone on the floor since I was watching on television, not to mention retrospectively being able to rewind the action, I had no idea where he thought he was throwing that pass.  All of a sudden, J.J. Hickson materialized – I swear he hadn’t been on the court – and caught the pass and went up for the dunk.  How did he see him?  No, really, how did LeBron see him!?  LeBron had 651 assists this season.  Every player who had more assists is a point guard.  No non-point guard came within 150 assists of his total.  This from a guy who is 6-foot-9 and 240 (yeah, right).  LeBron has done, is doing and is capable of things no other player could ever dream of doing.  Have I mentioned he’s now established himself as a great defender?

Now, I don’t mean to sell Kobe short.  He’s a 4 time champion, a former MVP and one of the mentally and physically toughest players ever in the NBA.  He’s even a member of my All-Stockholm Syndrome Team.

He’s put together a body of work that unquestionably places him among the absolute greatest players in NBA history.

He’s not better than LeBron right now.  It’s not close.  Yes, Kobe’s team is defending the championship and has made back-to-back trips to the Finals.  But a brief comparison of the relative situations of LeBron and Kobe helps explain why the playing field has been sloped toward Kobe.  First, Kobe’s coach, Phil Jackson, is unquestionably one of the top 3 NBA coaches in history.  LeBron’s coach, Mike Brown, may yet prove his greatness, but hasn’t done it yet.  Second, Kobe’s supporting cast is among the best in the league.  Lamar Odom comes off the bench for the Lakers!  Derek Fisher is one of the best role players of his time.  Andrew Bynum is already one of the best centers in the league (and yes, I’m aware that injuries have limited his contribution).  But Kobe also has Pau Gasol, who Jeff Van Gundy argued could have been 1st Team All-NBA this year.  He’s certainly among the best dozen players in the league.  In short, Kobe has a lot of help.

LeBron, on the other hand, went to the Finals in 2007 with a team that would have come in 3rd in my YMCA rec league without him.  Stop for a second and look at the key contributors on that team.

Are you back?  Good.  Do I even have to explain what a monumental achievement it was for LeBron to have lead that team to the NBA Finals?

That same year, in the admittedly tougher Western Conference, Kobe Bryant was unable to get out of the 1st round with at least as much talent as LeBron had around him. Two years earlier, Kobe’s Lakers finished 14 games under .500 and failed to make the playoffs at all. Hard to imagine a LeBron led team failing to make the playoffs in his prime, even with me running the point.

Enough background, though.  I write today because of Frank Isola’s blogpost Thursday arguing that he’s always favored Kobe because Kobe’s always been all about winning titles. By all accounts, Isola was serious.

Look, Kobe is a great competitor.  There’s no question he wants to win.  The problem is, Kobe wants to win on Kobe’s terms.  Even now, 14 years into his career, he still gets valid criticism for not being a willing passer when the situation calls for it. It has even been asserted that Kobe gets into “snits” when complaints start about him shooting too much. Phil Jackson criticized Kobe years ago in the book The Last Season for his lack of maturity and understanding of team concept, even asking management to trade Kobe during his prime. Moreover, regardless of how you want to assess blame, clearly Kobe had some role in blowing up the burgeoning dynasty the Lakers were building at the beginning of the last decade.  Is there another elite player who would have willingly taken dynamite to a team that was coming off of a three-peat?  Six years into his career, Kobe had three championships in his back pocket, was playing for the best coach in the league, with the best center in the league and a great bench and he wasn’t happy.  If he was all about winning titles, wouldn’t he have found a way to make that situation work?

Isola also wrote that while LeBron “Boobie Gibson is the 2nd best player on our team that went to the Finals” James says he’s all about winning titles, Isola gets the impression that he only says that because that’s what a superstar player is supposed to say.  Um, okay.  The trigger point for Isola’s post was Game 2 of the Cavs-Celtics series during which James appeared to be bothered by an elbow injury that is said to be worse than the team is letting on.  His subpar performance contributed to a blowout loss at the hands of the Celtics, turning the tide of the series in Boston’s direction.  In fairness, how could Isola know that LeBron would come out and slap down a 38-8-7 on the Celtics in Game 3, including 21 in the first quarter, during which he served notice that he intended to get home court back for his team – and did?  I mean, besides the seven years of LeBron’s career, what evidence exists to suggest this was even possible?!

Frank, you need an alibi.  I suggest a tweet arguing that Dan Shaughnessy hijacked your blog. You’ve gotta do something because you certainly don’t want to be held accountable for the garbage you’ve written about LeBron.

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