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When Michael Jordan retired from the NBA in 1999, the landscape of the league completely shifted; suddenly, professional basketball was left without a consensus No. 1, stranding us to instead search for the talent who we could consider the "next Michael Jordan". The label has been less gift than curse.
Harold Miner, Grant Hill, Vince Carter: these are just a few of the names that once shared a sentence with His Airness. However, as we've nearly reached two decades of a Jordan-less NBA (no, we're not counting the time he spent with the Wizards), two names have emerged that can legitimately lay claim to being the NBA's true, post-MJ superstar: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
There's certainly a case to be made for Kobe: five rings, an MVP award, 81 points, a pathological desire to win. Given the psychotic-cum-competitive nature of both Kobe and Jordan, it's tempting to call Kobe the true heir to MJ's throne.
Too bad King James is already sitting there.
Indeed, Kobe may share a greater resemblance to Jordan than James does. However, when we decide the winner of the LeBron-Kobe argument, we shouldn't wonder who was made more closely in Jordan's mold; we should wonder who broke it.
With his size, talent, athleticism, and versatility, LeBron James offers a one-of-a-kind package for basketball fans today. He is a four-time MVP. He won two championship rings as an alpha dog. He has proven his all-around abilities in passing, rebounding, defense, and scoring, year after year. James extends himself on the court in ways that are nearly impossible to plan for, treating us to emphatic slams, chase-down blocks, and stunning passes on a daily basis.
But most important of all is the singularity of LeBron's achivements. When you talk about Kobe, you have to talk about Shaq, Phil Jackson, and Jordan's ghost—without these influences, Kobe never becomes Kobe. With LeBron's career, we have no illusions or misconceptions about who was in charge. When LeBron came to Miami, it was Dwayne Wade who was forced to sit in the backseat. LeBron didn't buy into someone else's system; Erik Spoelstra's system was made for him.
Admittedly, there are times when LeBron's focus between being the No. 1 basketball player of all time and the No. 1 #brand of all time can appear blurry. To that end, let's not act like Jordan didn't do commercials, too. Business, after all, is business.
Yet, still, there persists a belief that LeBron lacks the naked, killer instinct present in Kobe's game; as if it's impossible to believe that LeBron could be the most marketable player on the court as well as the most formidable one; as if Kobe doesn't play in Los Angeles, a city where every man, woman, and frozen yogurt stand is trying to sell you something.
If anything, LeBron's mission to market himself and the state of Ohio should only be considered a feat. Go to YouTube and search "Cleveland": what do you find? Cavaliers highlights and a joke video highlighting Cleveland's depressing existence. We'll put it this way: 12 seasons ago, you wouldn't have seen those Cavs clips.
For more proof of why LeBron James is the true king of the NBA, watch the video for 10 Reasons Why LeBron Is Better Than Kobe. —Gus Turner (@gusturner1)