King Kobe Is Dead, Long Live King James

By Ryan White
Updated: June 3, 2007

OREGON — The official LeBron James Line from Thursday night’s double-overtime Game 5 win against Detroit read: 50 minutes, 48 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals — we’ll credit him with a third, for ripping the NBA away from Kobe Bryant.

A day after petulant Bryant toyed with ESPN’s multiple platforms to express multiple thoughts on an identical subject, sending pundits stumbling over each other, a steely James offered brilliance.

He scored 25 points in a row in the fourth quarter and two overtimes. He scored 29 of Cleveland’s final 30. He dunked, and dunked and dunked and hit comical jump shots; he flaunted physical law while mentally defiling Detroit. He was a bad man and a worse guest.

And from two thousand miles away, he lessened the significance of Kobe Bryant.

Until Thursday, the two biggest stories of the NBA playoffs had been the torpedoing of the Phoenix Suns by suspension, and the Lakers treading into an offseason riptide.

First, Jerry Buss, Lakers owner, was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of driving drunk. About 24 hours after Buss strolled outof the tank, Bryant went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and said he wanted to be traded. To where? Anywhere, he said. Even Pluto.

And what would that fix? Bryant might be happy for a season or two, but since losing planetary status, it’s hard to imagine Pluto being able to attract the quality free agents needed to keep Bryant content and, anyway, it turned out not to matter. A few hours later, he was on Dan Patrick’s radio show and said he didn’t want to be traded.

This completely overshadowed the final game of the San Antonio-Utah series. Patrick and Smith debated whose scoop was the scoop. Other talk show hosts gasped for the breath needed to spit out the necessary words. This was big. Big. Big. Big.

For a little more than a day, until James went to work.

James was so good, in such a crucial game, in such difficult surroundings, that he not only shut up critics, but diminished Bryant.

If the knock on Cleveland is that it’s a one-man show, that James’ supporting cast might as well be construction barrels, then what of Bryant and the Lakers? Even factoring the Western Conference’s much higher competitive inflation rate, Bryant’s trade-me-trade-me-not now feels a little like he’s saying he can’t get it done.

Could Bryant have taken this Cavaliers’ roster to the Eastern Conference finals? Or would he be demanding a trade from Cleveland (before not demanding a trade), because the Cavaliers haven’t collected enough talent around him? What would James do with the Lakers? Feel free to speculate.

All we know for sure is that today James feels a little bigger, and Bryant a whole lot smaller.

James looks like a guy who can take a team — any team — put it on his back, the one with the tattoo that reads “Chosen 1″ across it, and take that team to places you couldn’t dream. Bryant looks like a guy who can score as many points as he wants in a game, and lose.

James looks like a man of action. Bryant looks like a man of words.

James looks like the future. Bryant looks like yesterday’s news.