Kobe Bryant and LeBron James jockeyed for the spotlight as the NBA’s best player for several seasons. Their respective dominance led to heated debates over which player deserved the prestigious mantel. Former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird offered his two cents choosing Bryant over James for a simple reason.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James battled for NBA’s best player recognition
James’ rise to the top as one of the faces of the NBA put him alongside Bryant for recognition as the game’s best player.
The two stars shared the spotlight through much of the late 2000s and into the early 2010s. Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles in three straight Finals appearances, while James transformed the Cleveland Cavaliers into a championship contender. He followed that by joining the Miami Heat, where he anchored their push to compete for NBA titles.
All that pushed forward the debate around their greatness, leading Larry Bird to chime in on the discussion.
Larry Bird chose Kobe Bryant over a prime LeBron James for 1 simple reason: ‘If you want to win and win and win, it’s Kobe’
Throughout a significant portion of Bryant and James‘ careers, the two were considered the best players in the league.
It created a debate around which player would serve better to guide a team toward sustained championship success. During an interview on the BS Report with Bill Simmons in February 2013, former Celtics great Larry Bird weighed in on the discussion choosing Bryant over James.
“Probably Kobe,” Bird said. “Well, of course, he wouldn’t be shooting as much now but his desire to win, his dedication in the offseason to get better, and he is just tough. He is a tough cat. But if you wanna have fun like I did with Bill Walton, you play with LeBron. It’s probably more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it’s Kobe. Not that LeBron is not a winner. It’s just that his mindset to go into every practice and every game is to get better.”
Bird’s choice of a 33-year-old Bryant over a James in his physical prime likely came down to championship experience. He also strongly admired the Lakers star mindset as it mirrored much of how he played during his career.
Bryant may have been older, but he was playing at an elite level, coming off a strong 2011-12 season averaging 27.9 points. He put together a stellar 2012-13 campaign that featured him averaging 27.3 points before he tore his Achilles tendon in April 2013.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old James secured his first NBA title in 2012 in his second season with the Miami Heat. He averaged 27.1 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 53.1% from the floor that earned him his third MVP award. At the time of Bird’s interview, James was amid an MVP-winning campaign. He averaged 27.1 points on a career-best 56.7% shooting and was a few months away from leading the Heat to a second straight championship.
Ultimately, it isn’t a knock on James, but rather Bryant had a more accomplished career at that point.
LeBron James’ NBA legacy remains an open book
It’s been nearly a decade since Bird’s comments, to which James has added much more to his first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
James has earned three more NBA titles while playing in nine Finals over the last 10 seasons. He’s the only player in NBA history to win a championship and Finals MVP awards with three different franchises. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title while breaking a more than five-decade NBA title drought.
He also guided the Lakers to a 17th NBA title in his second season with the franchise. He’s set the NBA record with 17 All-NBA team selections and could surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer.
James continues to perform at an elite level even as he inches closer to playing two decades in the league. His 19th campaign holds the opportunity to vie for a fifth NBA title while he further cements himself as one of the game’s greatest players.