The Los Angeles Lakers have had many legendary players come through the organization, leaving lasting legacies and putting forth Hall-of-Fame resumes in the National Basketball Association. Although legends like Magic Johnson and Jerry West have come and gone, perhaps the most captivating player has been Kobe Bryant.
The 18-time All-Star brought forth his hard work and professional mentality to the basketball court, capturing the throne from Michael Jordan at the end of the 1990s. As is the case with the NBA, a generational great is often eclipsed by a young successor, bringing another potential great into the mix.
When taking a look around the NBA, the clear-cut choice to proceed Bryant was none other than LeBron James. The two future Hall-of-Famers have fought head-to-head on many occasions, but never in the NBA Finals, as so many people envisioned. With James now chasing his fourth NBA championship, people are starting to chime in on the debate and where he ranks versus the likes of Jordan and Bryant.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who is never afraid to voice his opinion, stated that he would give James the edge of Bryant should he fulfill one condition, via NBA TV:
"If they can win the championship this year, I'd probably move him past Kobe Bryant…"
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 21, 2017
If James were to dethrone the Golden State Warriors in consecutive NBA Finals, his status would elevate from generational great to all-time great in the eyes of many. With the Cavaliers and Warriors seemingly set for a collision course in the NBA Finals, James ability to beat the Warriors would just be another accolade to compare to Bryant.
There were chances in both 2009 and 2010 for the two legends to meet in the NBA Finals, but the Orlando Magic shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals in ’09 and the Boston Celtics upset James’ Cavaliers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semi-finals. Both the Magic and the Celtics would ultimately fall to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Bryant’s five championships and elusive scoring accomplishments are all noteworthy achievements in his 20-year career, capping off a focused and thrilling NBA career. The Pennsylvania native holds career averages of 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists, while shooting 44.7 from the field and 32.9 from beyond the arc.
On the other end, James winning only three championships in seven NBA Finals has tarnished his legacy to many. However, no one can deny his greatness and his ability to impact the game and make his teammates better. During his 14-year career, James has posted averages of 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists.