By Rob Mahoney
It's around this time every year that attentions naturally start to drift away from the slow development of the NBA season and toward more hypothetical matters. Some fiddle with the trade machine. Others have abstract arguments about this player or that, divorced from the context of a complete game and narrowed to a hyper-specific degree. Who is the best pure shooter? Who is the best clutch scorer? These are the questions that pass the time in the lull just before the trade deadline.
[Palmer]: You versus LeBron? Who wins?
[Bryant]: Me. No question. As far as one-on-one, I’m the best to ever do it.
[Palmer]: Damn. That’s pretty confident.
[Bryant]: LeBron is a terrific all-around, five-on-five basketball player who’s an all-time great. But I’d get him.
Ah, the classic one-on-one game that will never happen. We've been down this road with Kobe v. Jordan and so many others, and even this particular pairing has likely been publicly entertained at some point in time. That Bryant -- who gives up a listed two inches and 40 pounds -- would be so confident is as foolish as it is unsurprising. We shouldn't expect anything less from Bryant, but in this purely hypothetical scenario I think there's plenty of doubt about the winner. James isn't just a great team player, after all, but an elite defender, an imposing physical presence and an improved shooter. The confidence is expected, but hardly indicative of the actual matchup of these two players.
Interestingly, Bryant seemed a bit less sure of his ability to beat the league's second-best player behind James:
[Palmer]: Who could get you?Take from that what you will. In the same interview, Bryant also claims to have never lost a game of one-on-one and hints with a wink that he sparked Tracy McGrady's back spasms with a one-on-one beatdown. All classic Kobe stuff that's worth a read as further character study on one of the most fascinating people to ever come through the league.
[Bryant]: Kevin Durant is the guy that would give me the most trouble. With his length and ability to use the dribble, he’d be tough.