It’s no secret that Kobe has a history of showing up Lebron during the All Star game, and Sunday was no exception.
Flashback to the 2010 All Star Game in Los Angeles, when Kobe “posterized” Lebron, in the absolute loosest sense of the word, then smugly patted him on the backside, or last year in Dallas, when he could be heard taunting Lebron for refusing to take the final shot in the waning moments of an uncharacteristically close All Star game which the West subsequently won, or go back even further to their first All Star matchup when Kobe could be seen backing down Lebron in the post and draining Jordanesque rainbow fade-aways in his face.
Evidently fueled by Michael Jordan’s controversial revelation, during a one-on-one with Amad Rashad, that he would take Kobe over Lebron in the hypothetical superstar fantasy draft by which we now apparently measure greatness, Kobe committed to playing 94-feet of suffocating defense on Lebron in the closing quarter of the game, blocking his shot twice to ensure a win for the West.
The All-Star game is all in good fun, and announcers like Reggie Miller praised Kobe for his unrelenting competitiveness, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that his incessant badgering of Lebron carried with it the unmistakable stench of desperation, and what’s perhaps worse, it was clear that Lebron could hardly be bothered to care.
But besides locking down Lebron, Kobe accomplished his other mission, which was to distract us, however briefly, from the fact that the Heat have taken their season series against a Lakers team that is on the brink of imploding, that Lebron has consistently outplayed him in games that actually matter, and that Lebron is en route to win his second consecutive MVP award and fifth overall. For those of you still counting, five is better than one.
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Maybe Michael is turning soft in his old age and is finally prepared to loosen his Kung-fu-like grip for the proverbial passing of the torch. The only problem with Michael’s choice is that his credibility in the talent evaluation department remains suspect thanks to an abysmal tenure as Team President of the Washington Wizards, when he famously chose perpetual whipping boy and draft-bust-extraordinaire Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, not to mention the fact that his Charlotte Bobcats continue to flounder around in the cesspool that is the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings.
Nonetheless, it’s a familiar tale. Kobe has made a career of emulating his idol, and all young Kobe ever wanted was the approval of his hero, while Michael, cast in the role of the stern and distant patriarch, has consistently withheld his affection.
So when Michael threw him a bone this past weekend, Kobe couldn’t resist the opportunity to reiterate what he has so brazenly said so many times before, that given a one-off, mano-a-mano, winner-take-all matchup between himself and Lebron, he would win, no question.
Setting aside the fact that it would never happen, the harsher truth for Kobe is that it would hardly matter at this point.
So he had to seize the moment at the All Star game to prove that he can still shut down Lebron anytime he wants. Because Kobe recognizes that, in all likelihood, he won’t get a chance to do so when it really matters: in the NBA finals. While, the Miami Heat are poised to steamroll their way through the Eastern Conference Playoffs to a third straight Finals appearance, Kobe and his Lakers saw their championship train derailed before it even got out of the station.
And despite a staggering amount of evidence to the contrary, Kobe will never (not now, not ever) concede that Lebron has overtaken him as the current best player in basketball.
Lebron’s greatness is a personal affront to a man who, since high school, has suffered endless comparisons to the Greatest of All Time, and who now as his own star fades and Lebron’s burns brighter than ever, continues to have his illustrious career called into question.
But if Kobe’s 94 feet of defense during the All Star Game means anything, it’s that he’s more like his idol than Lebron is in terms of his borderline sociopathic tenacity when it comes to competition.