As we lead up to Monday's showdown between the Cavaliers and Lakers, we focus our attentions on LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. My feelings on the State of the NBA Superstars has been published 'round here before. Through my eyes, LeBron is clearly the best player in the world (and, ahem, Kobe's not even #2 right now).
But at this late stage (Thursday night, to be exact), big-name analysts like Kenny Smith still name Kobe number one. That's fine -- you're entitled to your opinion, Kenny Smith. But I'm entitled to call that opinion ridiculous. So, um: that opinion is ridiculous. Follow me down the rabbit hole, from whence we shall never return.
Again, I've been hip deep in this muck plenty before. I named LeBron the best player in the NBA this summer; I hear he donated the prize of 500 ZillerBucks to charity. To me, it's clear-cut. To science, it seems pretty clear cut. But for whatever reason, Kenny Smith and some of you -- all good people, I trust -- argue the opposite.
John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is the best summary measure we've got ... and it's damn good. Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal own the top 10 list of highest PER seasons -- this isn't some crackpot measure that counts Dennis Rodman as the finest player in modern history or Allen Iverson as just another scrub. PER mixes the right level of unexpected surprise with a grounded, "smell test" accuracy. Almost every analyst working for a team these days knows and respects PER as a measurement of individual player performance.
MJ has the best career PER, and the top four PER seasons of the modern era. He's the Greatest of All Time for a reason, that reason being that he is the Greatest of All Time. And of course, Kobe and 'Bron are inextricably linked to His Airness as potential usurpers to the throne. Kobe's been the Second Coming since '96, and James has settled into that spot over the past five seasons.
But what I don't get is that if Kobe is a potential G.O.A.T., and if LeBron is a potential G.O.A.T., and Kobe is much older than LeBron ... shouldn't their performances to date at least be in the same stratosphere? Because they aren't.
LeBron -- who just turned 24 -- has already had two full seasons statistically better than the peak of Kobe (who is now age 30). This season for LeBron looks to break MJ's high standard -- and Kobe's peak is a mile back. The realist's premonitions of LeBron's reign over Kobe date back to '06, when a 21-year-old 'Bron matched Kobe's season shot for shot, box score for box score, win for win. Last season, LeBron officially broke away from Bryant. The comparison was not close last year. This season, the gulf is much, much larger.
And Kenny Smith is still arguing that Kobe's the best player in the world. It's absolutely hilarious. I'm not sure what LeBron needs to do in order to prove his mettle -- I imagine Kobephiles will point to his rings, but no one's arguing Kobe circa 2002 is the G.O.A.T. -- and I'm positive he doesn't care what Smith or I or you say. But for the good of the world, for the good of the children ... can we please take our heads out of [the sand] and admit reality? LeBron is the best player on this or any world, and there is no question.
Come on, you can do it. Say it slowly, if you must. LeBron ... is ... the best.