by Johnny Nguyen

You cannot say “MVP” without recognizing LeBron James, who currently holds back to back MVP titles. LeBron, in the last two years, has single handedly carried his team to close out the regular season with more than 60+ wins. Topping off Lebron’s list of accomplishments is the Cleveland Cavaliers appearance in the 2007 NBA Finals; the franchise’s first and only title appearance. But if we were to judge James on those criteria, then we must also past judgment on King’s performance in the Playoffs. Quite simply, James has experienced a downward trend when it comes to performing in the postseason.

Let’s begin with LeBron being swept in the 2007 NBA finals. The following year, he failed to allow his team to the even compete for a championship, falling victim to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. And now he’s lost in the second round of the Playoffs two straight seasons. This downward trend does not appear to be going up any time soon with LeBron’s contract ending, engaging in the most exciting free agent chase in NBA history. It’s unlikely that LeBron will stay in the city of Cleveland as his dreams of winning an NBA Chip is, yet again, put at bay.

Meanwhile, even those who rant about Kobe Bryant being overrated cannot say anything about his performances in the Playoffs. Some may discredit his first three rings giving Shaq the majority of the share holds. Others may criticize his lack of assists in a game questioning his overall leadership. And then there are those who are willing to go as far as to settle arguments with an attack on Kobe’s personal track record. Whatever the criticism may be, very few can deny that Kobe is undoubtedly the most valuable player to have in the NBA Playoffs, and therefore the most valuable player in the game.

It isn’t a coincidence that Kobe Bryant has participated in the last three NBA Finals and currently holds the 2009 Finals MVP Trophy in his living room. With his relentless consistency, commitment to playing both ends of the floor, and his continued leadership, Kobe’s game speaks for itself. Many fail to recognize his attention of details, his implementation of strategy, and his patience with execution. All of this provides an open opportunity for him to win his fifth NBA Championship ring this year.

The Playoffs are not something that is going to be won off luck; night-in and night-out against the same team often require a certain mental capacity. It will separate who will advance from those that will go home. The Playoffs are game of strict strategy. It resembles a game of poker. You cannot play every hand. If you choose to, most of the opponents will stop betting against you. This may seem effective in the short run but it takes lightens the impact of what you could have potentially made with one good hand. Kobe, in Spike Lee’s Documentary dissecting Kobe’s thought process, is recorded saying “I will have the shot later in the game; I rather use it in a time where my team needs it.”

This simple quote reflects his patience to strategically attack his opponents where it will be cause the most damage, such as a game-winning shot. Contrary to popular belief, poker is not so much a game of cards as it is a game of psychology. You’re opponent may have the best hand possible, but you can minimize the impact it has on your stack of chips by the amount of money you choose to invest. LeBron is by far the most effective player in the League according to statistics, and it normally takes more than one person to guard him. You are not going to stop LeBron’s numbers. He can get a triple double pretty much any night. However, you can minimize his blows through help defense, frustrating him in the lane, forcing him to take difficult shots, and stopping his overall momentum. These demoralizing tactics can take a toll on even the most effective player, as we witnessed in the Celtics-Cavaliers series.

Going back to the poker analogy, it is a game where the last player with the chips is considered the victor. The amount of hands you win do not add value. The statistics are irrelevant: The triple doubles, the highlights, the buzzer beaters, even the amount of games you win don’t matter if you don’t win the one that allows you to advance to the next round.

Really, the only thing that matters is who walks away with the chips or in this case the Chip.

(I think the Puppets campaign explained this last year, and Kobe only had three at that point…):

 

Johnny Nguyen is a basketball fan and sneakerhead who you may remember reading about on this site last fall when we profiled the store he and two friends opened in Saugus, MA. You can re-read that story here, and then go to foottraffik.com for more.