by HP, Hardwood Paroxysm
It's becoming more and more clear that Kobe Bryant is going to win the MVP, whether he deserves it or not. This is not to say that he doesn't deserve it. He very much does. Were he not playing in the same league with one Mr. LeBron James. But even then, I'm willing to consider a compromise to make everyone happy.
James has more rebounds, more assists, more blocks, the same number of steals, and oh yeah, more points. He's performing in all aspects of the game in a way we've never really seen before. He's a monster in the clutch and completely unstoppable once he gets going. He schooled Bryant in a heads-up matchup, draining the game winning jumper. He definitely has a worse supporting cast, and thereby definitely more important to his team. All this while redefining our common conceptions of a superstar. What James' combination of size, speed, and skill achieves is something we've never seen before.
But, no. "Kobe's never won an MVP!" they cry. Like it matters in a regular season award what's happened in the past. "Statistics don't matter!" they protest, unless Kobe were to overtake Bryant in scoring. "Kobe plays better defense!" they beg me to admit, even though James plays in a team-oriented defensive system that doesn't ask him to do the same things Kobe does, and even though he's got the same number of steals and more blocks. These are all supposed to impress upon me the idea that Kobe is superior. The problem is that he's not. He wasn't better than Steve Nash three or two years ago, he wasn't better than Dirk Nowitski last year, he's not better than LeBron James this year. When asked for reasons why he is better than James this year, most people, outside of the brilliant RespectKobe (which puts together a fantastic argument for his MVP candidacy), will stammer and come up with a "Come on. It's Kobe. He's the best player in the world." Ask them to qualify that statement, and you get something along the lines of best case, "shooting percentage, clutch ability (even though the numbers don't support this), killer instinct, and defensive aptitude" to worst (and more often) case: "Because he is!"
I also don't understand the widespread feeling that Bryant has been dismissed in these discussions. If you ask me who the average ESPN, TNT, or SI pundit thinks is the greatest basketball player in the game today, I would tell you Kobe Bryant. The man is adored. The fact that he's so unlikable? That makes him more attractive to pundits, because they all want to look like heroes for the poor, misunderstood superstar. Does LeBron James get the media stroke? Absolutely. But he's still new kid on the block. Kobe Bryant is THE GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER ALIVE! If you want to talk about disrespected and overlooked, tell it to Chris Paul or Tim Duncan.
Recently HoopsAddict posted a terrific breakdown of the argument. It was going so well, until...
"In the end, an MVP does what all the legends do best, take the game over with little or no time left to play. An MVP takes their game to another level when their team needs them most. They do whatever is asked of them from tip-off until the final buzzer. An MVP gives their team the swagger that all championship teams seize, probably one of the most valuable assets to have on and off the court. They keep their team going and show leadership in the process, traits all three of these players, albeit at different points in their careers, possess. However, in the end there can only be one MVP and his name is Kobe Bryant."I have a couple of serious issues with this. If you want to talk about taking their game to another level, it's widely accepted that LeBron's ceiling is remarkably higher than Kobe's. You need a soul killing drive to the basket and a foul because the perimeter defense is stout? LeBron is getting it. With Kobe, you're more than likely looking at that gorgeous fadeaway jumper of his. I'm not saying that it's not going in, because it is. But LeBron's arsenal in the clutch is wider, simply by virtue of his diverse range of physical traits and skills. Also, doing whatever is asked of them from tip-off to final buzzer? Kobe dictates that. Not Jackson, notKupchak, and certainly not Derek Fisher. Kobe does what Kobe wants to do. James is infinitely more likely to get his teammates involved if he needs to (as reflected by the wide gap in assists). Leadership is the one that really bugs me, though. James knew his current squad wasn't going to provide the push to get over the top 2 in the East. So he politely affirmed when asked if he would support a trade for Kidd. Bryant? Demanded a trade before the season because he had such little faith in his teammates. Kobe is a ferocious killer on the court. Off? You think it's just some sort of bizarre conspiracy that he's one of the least liked superstars in the NBA, despite his timid demeanor off court?
But this example illuminates the tragic truth. Kobe Bryant is going to win the MVP. When I argued with my co-author over at Hardwood Paroxysm about this matter, I told him there was no way the voters would be done enough to actually fall for some sort of media contrived push for his candidacy based on his previous failure to finish high. I told him that the voters would recognize how superior his teammates are compared to James'. Then the Gasol trade happened, and seemingly this is what pushed him over the edge. Now I read more and more the same argument.
"While it's true that LeBron is better for X,Y, and Z reasons, Kobe Bryant is the MVP. That's just how it is."
I hear this, and I want to vomit. There are plenty of reasons for Kobe to be named MVP. The only issue is that they are easily rebuked when compared with LeBron's case. However, I've come to accept it. But I do want to make a plea.
Split the vote. In this, the perfect season to document it, split the MVP between the two. This is a season that represents transition from the old to the new. The Lakers and Celtics are new superpowers, as Shaq toils away in an overblown contract, the final nail in the Suns' coffin. The Hornets and Jazz represent the future, along with Portland, while San Antonio looks for it's first ever repeat in what may be it's last solid chance for a while with the age of it's starters increasing (Parker and Ginobili aside). Let this be a season to recognize them both, to reward Bryant for what he's done over the past four years, carrying his team to the playoffs year in and year out and never getting the "credit" he "deserves." And to reward James, for entering into another level of superstardom, and his first season to clearly make his case for the best player in basketball. Think of the ramifications if the two were to meet in the Finals, Mr. Stern. I beg of you! C0-MVP versus co-MVP. It would be epic, the likes of which we haven't seen in two decades.
If we're going to reward Bryant for all the amazing, intangible things he is (and make no mistake, his intangibles are off the charts), let's recognize it in a way that doesn't squander the superior season LeBron has had without a 7' superstar Euro PF/C, one of the best young big men in the league, a wily veteran shooter point guard, and a bench that is arguably the deepest in the NBA. Yes, LeBron will win more. But it doesn't change the fact that he's earned it this season. If you want to do the right thing, let's answer this in a way that's fair. Well, okay, close to fair.
2008 NBA MVP: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
PS: If you think I'm a "hater" and want to see what we're doing to celebrate Kobe over HP, click here. Join us, for Kobe Bryant Blog Day.
by HP, Hardwood Paroxysm