Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jemele Hill's Bogus Case for Kobe

Jemele Hill, by my last check, is the newest edition to ESPN.com's Page 2. Page 2 has not aged well over the years. What was once a thriving haven for sports minds (Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Wiley come to mind) has devolved in hodgepodge of mindless bantering and pop culture phooey. Even the hilarious Bill Simmons seems to have lost a step.

Jemele's a pretty interesting writer. She was known for being opinionated at the Orlando Sentinel and it's certainly carried over to the WWL. Which is a good thing. I've read some of her stuff on Page 2 and they were good reads. Except for the part where she said Anchorman is hilarious. We must have watched different movies.

Anyway, Jemele has the audacity to proclaim that Kobe Is Better than Michael Jordan. Now, this argument has popped up at watercoolers, sports bars, barbershops, classrooms and gyms around the country for years. So this isn't necessarily ground-breaking material we're dealing with. But considering Kobe's recent and unparalled scoring splurge it's as good a time as any to reopen the debate. Either side could make a compelling argument for MJ or Kobe. Ms. Hill has chosen to side with the latter, which is in the minority camp but certainly reasonable . However, Jemele's reasoning quickly stumbles over her own faulty rationale.

These are some of the points she makes in favoring Kobe:

(Kobe) hasn't won more MVPs.

Hasn't won more titles.

But he's a better player.

Kobe can do everything Michael did, and even a few things Michael couldn't do.Kobe is just as good a defender. His killer instinct is just as pronounced. He can shoot, finish and explode. And just like Jordan, the more he's pissed off, the more unstoppable he is.

How about hasn't won any MVPs (unless you count All-Star games). That "just as good a defender" line is also highly subjective. Both possess awe-inspiring killer instinct, but Kobe's postseason resume pales when stacked against MJ's. Mamba's most famous shot came in a first round game. His greatest play? Not a championship-clinching shot ala Jordan's dagger against Utah. Nope, Kobe's greatest moment in a Laker uniform was, somewhat ironically, a pass. An alley-oop to Shaq no less, in the miraculously Game 7 Western Conference Final victory over the Trailblazers.

The fadeaway buzzer-beater against Phoenix last year? GOATs aren't made in the first round. The all-time greats take care of business when rings are on the line. Like when MJ burned the Blazers and Jazz. Kobe has yet to perform at his peak when the stakes are highest. Zero Finals MVPs. While Bryant did have a memorable Game 1 against the Pistons in the 2003 NBA Finals, he was neutralized the remainder of the series. I suppose Kobe wasn't pissed off enough to prevent the four beatdowns that followed.

The only thing Kobe is definitely better at than MJ is the three-point shot. And it's not like Mamba lights it up from downtown with his 34% career clip.

The NBA is tougher now.

Kobe, like Michael, is surrounded with mediocre to below-average talent, and Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio are all better than the Utah, Portland and the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix team that Michael met in the NBA Finals.

Tougher? Because the talent pool's been diluted with expansion teams and high schoolers? Because zone defenses and tic-tac fouls chip away at the game's ferocity? I assume Jemele means the competition plays at a higher leveler and is not necessarily referring to a more aggressive style of play.

I agree the three-headed monster that is the 2007 Suns, Mavericks and Spurs are better than yesteryear's Jazz, Trailblazers and Suns. But none of those teams (each with HOFers) were pushovers. And the Bulls had to play some tough and talented Knicks and Pacers teams to reach the NBA Finals.

There are two two-time MVPs in Kobe's own conference (Duncan, Nash), which is a problem Jordan never faced during his championship runs.

Because Jordan won five f'ing MVPs! He was too busy winning them to share.

In fact, you could argue that Jordan was even worse (as a teammate). Far as we know, Kobe hasn't jacked up any of his teammates the way Jordan punched out Steve Kerr and Will Perdue at practice.

Maybe Kobe should consider kicking some ass in the Lakers locker room. Maybe then Smush and Cook will stop bitching about minutes and start worrying about winning games. Certainly MJ wasn't the nicest teammate. Hell, he was downright cruel at times. But everyone on the roster played for him and each other. The results on the court speak for themselves.

The shame of it is that Kobe might finish his career without a MVP, even though his ability can be compared only to that of Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

By referencing Jordan and Chamberlain I assume Jemele means to conjure the legendary names of the game; the transcendent talents whose mere presence on the court would drastically alter the dynamic of any given game. Funny she fails to mention the latest player who belongs to that legendary lineage. Hint: he's the same guy who played (and sometime fought) alongside Kobe for almost a decade, shouldering the burden and capturing three titles and Finals MVPs in the process. He's also managed to win a championship with a mediocre team sans Kobe's services. This mystery player also owns the second-highest Player Efficiency Rating in NBA history. Kobe's career PER? 19th best.

Who's #1? Who else? The GOAT.

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