‘Kobe is the best player in the League’

by August 21, 2008

by Nima Zarrabi

At a recent family dinner at my parents place near Seattle, a friend asked me a question that sparked great debate around our feast. “Do you think the Sonics will ever be reborn in Seattle?” Passionate responses ensued—there were several Sonics loyalists in attendance. Blame was peppered everywhere and people were mentioned by name: Bennett, Schultz, Stern, politicians, player salaries etc.

When the discussion ceased, I heard my cousin say something under his breath that caught my attention. He starred at his plate and whispered: “A guy like Kevin Durant comes along once in a lifetime. Not being able to see that growth….”

His voice trailed off. I felt bad. My cousin is the biggest Sonics fan I know. A devout season ticket holder, he has been in a deep basketball depression since the team bounced. “I’m over it.”

When I checked back into SoCal, I had a chance to read Mutoni’s fantastic piece, “Let’s not dance on Kobe’s grave just yet.” I tried to read Alex Boeder’s piece on LeBron, but it was coming up as a dead link for me. Either it’s dead on the site or my connection continues to disappoint (Nima, check that cable! – Ed.). Anyway, the piece distracted my mind from Durant and helped raise my spirits.

I was quickly reminded that as an LA resident, I am allowed to witness the brilliance of Kobe Bean Bryant on occasion. Smile. It may only be for one more year—Mamba could be planning to opt out for the 2009-10 season, making a dash for D’Antoni and the NYK, followed by a LeBron James’ move to Brooklyn in 2010-11—then the real battle for NY pops off and Stern and the Swoosh pop serious bottles.

I know—I’m just stirring up shit now.

The actual point of this piece was to introduce some thoughts Ira Newble had on Kobe and LeBron. As many of you know, Newble has had the privilege of playing on teams with both. I got with Ira back in late June for a 2-hour plus interview about his work in Darfur (its coming, I promise!).

During that sit down, I asked Ira to discuss the similarities and differences in KB and Bron’s games. These are his words:

“They’re both extremely aggressive players and their approach to the game is like no other. They’re both very confident and believe they are the best on the court. Their preparation is at a high level—they continue to get better and separate themselves from everybody else. But they are different players.

“LeBron is 6-8 and he’ll tell you he’s 250, but he’s more like 260. And he probably runs a 4.3 second 40-yard dash. Kobe is more of a perimeter player. Consistently, he’s a better shooter than LeBron. LeBron at this point in his career is further along than Kobe. LeBron at 23 is better than Kobe at 23. LeBron’s nearly averaging a triple-double. That says it all right there. He’s more of a point-forward than Kobe is. More of a facilitator.

“But Kobe is the best player in the League. LeBron would even tell you that. LeBron will get there. If you noticed, his game progressed each year, especially in respect to his outside shot. Once you tell him he can’t do something, he wants to prove you wrong. Think about when he gets a consistent outside shot. You already can’t stop him from getting to the basket. I’ve also had the task of trying to guard Kobe many times in my career. Trust me, it ain’t easy. His perimeter shot makes him really tough to guard. When he shoots the ball, he may make a more real quick but his shot is the same tempo every time.

“The same shot every time.

“He shoots as if you’re hand is not there. As if he’s by himself. Both these guys are MVP’s in their own right. What an MVP does is get his teammates involved and in the 4rth quarter when you need them for the winning bucket, they step up. I’ve been in games with LeBron and we’ll be down 10 with 2 minutes to go in the game and I’m thinking that’s too close—LeBron might take over. Kobe does the same thing. Get on my back, I got you guys. The upside for LeBron is ridiculous. His maturation process has been pretty advanced. I’ve watched him grow into a leader—he knows how to work the refs, talk to people. He gives the NBA a fresh look. He’s been able to deal with everything that’s been put on him in a very professional way. It’s remarkable. I don’t think we’re going to stop hearing the comparisons between LeBron and Kobe.”