Friday, December 26, 2008

Divinity Wears A Headband

I stumbled across this very intricate hierarchy (link here) that charts intricate NBA archetypes. While the main portion of it is interesting in its own right, I would—like the folks at FreeDarko did*—like to focus on the Alaska-to-the-Continental-US-like separation that is the Lebron James category. While this doesn't fully explain why Lebron has surpassed Kobe, it does give that moment its proper recognition. This is another difference between the two titans that doesn't neatly fit into the, "Who's the better player?" discussion. It also delves deeper into a truth that has been made superficial over time. More after the random picture...

I'll start with The Mamba. Most recognize Kobe as the closest thing to His Airness since His Airness, and that includes Jordan's time with the Wizards. He has found cosmic success despite that career-damaging comparison that has been the Scarlet Letter to various swingmen (see: Stackhouse, Jerry; or Carter, Vince). It's to the point that calling Kobe "the closest thing to MJ" has become a compliment that rolls off the tongue. Everything, from his walk to his post-game press conference to his unmatched will to win, bears an eerie resemblance to Jordan. And I'm not mad at him for doing it. However, why he won't be considered among those greats of the greats—Jordan, Oscar, Magic, Bird, Wilt—is due to his perfect study and tracing of His Airness.

In all honesty, Kobe is a more cerebral Jordan; because he had Jordan as a guide. Obviously, that does not make him a better player; but it allowed for Kobe to develop the finer intricacies of his game (the fadeaway, the mid-range jumper) at a faster rate than MJ. Kobe is an all-time great, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and an extremely unique talent. So why won't he be mentioned in the same breath as the Big O and those others? Because it's been done. Since he is a xerox copy of MJ, with a few minor unique adjustments, he is not so unique that he's unprecedented. Everything Kobe has done in his career is matched—and surpassed—by Jordan's; other than the number of years it took to win a title. Kobe is that basketball sun/son that was born from a celestial, tongue-wagging body and able to coexist among the greats in his own, albeit slightly lesser, universe. Great in his own right, but a creation not the Creator.

This brings me to Lebron James. The reason why the designers of that NBA hierarchy felt the need to give him his own blue circle is because there is no exact structure that can neatly classify his talent. Regardless of where you rank him among the Association's best, no one can deny that there has never been a player with his combination of skill, IQ, and imposing physical stature. He is Magic Johnson with the ability to get 50. He is Oscar Robertson in a power forward's body. He is MJ with the unforced willingness to distribute. Again, he is in a classification all his own, and we are able to behold it from its inception.

I've already broken down his game, so I won't dwell on his first step or his left-handed reverse layup. The fact that we can watch his ablities grow from uncanny to mytholigical is astonishing. Without a doubt, we're enjoying immortals like Duncan, KG, Kobe, Shaq, and soon-to-be Chris Paul. But few athletes since Jordan, none of them being basketball players, have made basketball fans worship and adore him like Lebron has. For example, that "chalk" thing he does before games was done by Garnett—and by Jordan before that. Yet few people know this; or even care, for that matter. His power over the masses is due to his previously unseen might. In the way Kobe is a sun born from Galaxy 23, Lebron is his own celestial being; a Universe among stars destined to dwell in the Most Holiest of basketball places, perhaps at a throne higher even than MJ's.

We are confused and excited by him because we have nothing with which to juxtapose him. Add in his age and the idea of him actually getting better, and you have basketball divinity wearing a headband and tattoos as his crown and symbological markings. We are all witnesses.



Bethlehem Shoals said...

Isn't Kobe more a variation on Jordan these days than an outright derivative of him? I agree that he's always been a more cerebral take on MJ because he's working over pre-existing material. But at this point—the mature Kobe, if you will—he's actually added dimensions to Jordan's game that never were there. All that hyper-rational, Duncan-esque shit.

The Till Show said...

Yes and yes. Both are very true premises. However, I'm maintaining that because Kobe is so intertwined with Jordan, he cannot escape from MJ's aura enough to sit alongside him among the greatest of the greats.

And his bank shot can only be matched by Duncan. Not even Wade does it like that.