We come here today not to praise
And, in a most un-Bard-like way, vice versa.
Actually, we come here not to praise or bury either but rather to consider how frequently supporters of one or the other feel compelled to do precisely that when debating the merits of the two high-octane NBA superstars. Right there, that word "debate" tells you a lot about how we view them and, frankly, how we think about the game of basketball. Other players, we discuss, compare and examine. With Bryant and James -- man, it's weird just to stick an "and'' between their names, when we're so accustomed to using "or" -- it's so often debate, occasionally veering into argument. Every once in a while the more fervent among us probably even drags things down to the level of fight.
Why so serious, as the guy with the bad makeup job would say? Why so polarizing?
"My God people!!! Big difference because Kobe has three  championship rings while James has none," a reader with the handle Albert23 posted on one Web site. "James has none. I repeat, NONE. All other NBA-recognized best players have championship rings ..."
"LBJ is better than Kobe at the same age, no question!" wrote bdriving. "Kobe is better at shooting and defensive [James is closing that category], but James is better in every other fascist [sic] of the game ..."
Rare is the sort of diplomacy -- or bet-hedging or straddling -- that coach-turned-analyst
The extremism runs deep. The vantage point from which I catch much of my in-person NBA action is Minnesota's Target Center, from the corner media section just over the left shoulder of the Timberwolves' 12th man. Seated nearby, among various local and out-of-town scribblers and yakkers, are
Again, why so polarizing? Isn't it possible to like both chocolate and vanilla equally as the battle for 2008-09 MVP award enters its final days (leaving strawberry,
No. Sorry. It's not feasible any more than it's possible to claim both the Beatles and the Stones as favorites. Here, after deliberation from somebody who grew up mistakenly thinking he could root for both the North Side and South Side baseball teams in Chicago, are some reasons why:
• It's only natural.
James and Bryant are perfect antagonists. They play in opposite conferences, for clubs that sit atop the Eastern and Western standings, respectively, and could very well end up clashing in the NBA Finals. They share similar backgrounds, at least in terms of their
Wait, there's more: They play more or less the same position (wing scorer and playmaker, Bryant from shooting guard, James from forward), filling basically the same role (franchise guy, team leader and offensive focal point) and chasing essentially the same goal (league championship). That makes this different from a lot of "who's the best?" arguments, when the contemporaries --
• It's a complicated question.
The answer to "Bryant or James?" hinges almost entirely on what else you factor into the discussion. Are you choosing the "best" player or the "most valuable" or the one having the best season? Is this a matter of who will be the greatest when we look back on their careers, the one you'd most want for your franchise going forward or, as some have framed it, Kobe's past 10 years versus LeBron's next 10?
No one wants to play
• It's the way of our world.
Polarization is what we do these days. We live in states that are either blue or red, drive American or foreign, stick to diet or regular and tune in to
• It reveals more about us than it does about them.
This, I think, explains a lot of the passion. It tells the world what you fancy most about basketball: finesse vs. power, sleekness vs. strength, asserting the individual vs. facilitating the group. Excellence that is known -- Bryant, after all, is the closest we've gotten to
I hesitate to say it's a matter of style vs. substance, because both guys' ways have been eminently effective, in the way that either a Ferrari or a Porsche Cayenne can get the job done. People usually just prefer one to another.
The closest antecedent, hoops-wise, might be the
Claims to superiority for either? Multiple. Crossover among their most ardent supporters? Hardly any at all. Not unlike the two guys we've been marveling at this season and debating once more here.