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News » Don't bank on Kobe vs. LeBron in Finals 2009-05-26

Don't bank on Kobe vs. LeBron in Finals 2009-05-26

Don't bank on Kobe vs. LeBron in Finals 2009-05-26
Um, about that Kobe-LeBron matchup to determine the future of the free world ... can we stop the hype? Or at least press pause? LeBron James and the (team nickname here) trail Dwight Howard and Orlando, two games to one — and only won the one on a crazy buzzer-beater by LeBron. Kobe and the (players wearing the same uniform as Kobe) are locked in a tight series with Denver.

Kobe and LeBron may yet meet in the Finals. But there is a decent chance that neither man makes it past this round. The dream matchup might get derailed by a major problem in the NBA right now: too many good players.

Why is this a problem? Because the NBA, as an entertainment product, is built around the idea of superstar clashes. It is an idea the NBA created 20 years ago, and it quickly got out of control, and the league still cannot quite corral it.

If you love basketball, you'd love to see Kobe-LeBron. But you don't need it. If you really love the game, you should appreciate that we're living in a golden era of hoops, and that if the best one-on-one showdown you get is Kobe-Carmelo Anthony, then you've had yourself one hell of a television-watching spring.

Anthony scored 73 points in the first two games against the Lakers. (He struggled in Game 3, which just makes me think he'll have a monster performance in Game 4.) Kobe continues to be the scariest pure scorer in the world.

Is it Carmelo's fault that LeBron James is better than he is? Is it LeBron's fault that Dwight Howard has a better supporting cast? Can we all agree that the NBA is churning out some serious entertainment right now?

Alas, we cannot all agree. There are two theories about the level of talent in the modern-day NBA. The first theory is that the league has never had so many gifted young players, from James to Anthony to Howard to Dwyane Wade to Derrick Rose and Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Then there is the other theory, which is: Darn, those fellas have got a lot of tattoos!

Perhaps I'm simplifying. Perhaps not. The NBA became an international phenomenon largely because of image-making: The world fell in love with Magic Johnson's smile and his rivalry with Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan was the pre-eminent say-nothing-and-have-everybody-love-you superstar of the late 20th century. Jordan was always impeccably dressed and starred in a movie with Bugs Bunny.

Then came the post-Jordan era (which actually started in Jordan's final days, and it featured the Kobe-Shaq Chronicles, Allen Iverson talkin' about practice, Rasheed Wallace complaining to the officials, etc.

Tim Duncan is always a gentleman and has never said anything interesting, just like Jordan, but this is actually used against him:

He has always been considered too boring to be a superstar. His fundamentally perfect game (everywhere but at the free throw line) is used against him, too: Duncan is undeniably great but not brilliant, super but not spectacular.

So basically, the Magic-Bird-Jordan triumvirate set a standard that was impossible to match — not so much with their play, but with the perception of their play.

Everybody since has failed to live up to the mythical standard. It is a shame that LeBron James can't match up with Jordan in his prime, because then everybody would see James is bigger, stronger and just as athletic, with better court vision. And we'd see if Jordan's incomparable will gave him the edge over James.

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And it's a shame Carmelo can't go back 20 years and show Dominique Wilkins a thing or three. He has become what everybody hoped he would be: as pure a scorer as anybody in his generation.

Anthony joined the league in 2003, fresh off leading Syracuse to a national title as a freshman. At the time, there was a media-created debate about whether he should go first in the draft, over LeBron James, though I don't think anybody in the NBA bought it. James was, and is, a superior talent, with a chance to be the best player ever.

Anthony, meanwhile, has had his pouting moments, a DUI, a "that wasn't my marijuana" run-in with police, an allergy to playing defense and a few other moments unbecoming a superstar. He went from everything that could be great about the NBA to everything people don't like about it.

But you know what? He's started to figure this superstar thing out. He was visibly upset when his team blew Game 3 to the L.A. Kobes at home, but what struck me was that he had earned the right to be upset. He has poured himself into the team and established himself as a player who can (at least potentially) lead his team to a title.

Is that time now? Anthony may never ever play with a better point guard than the 2009 version of Chauncey Billups. He may never have better talent around him than he does now.

You can dismiss Carmelo Anthony for his past transgressions or define him by who he is not. You can do all that, but then you might miss the show.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 26, 2009


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