Ball Don't Lie - NBA

It wasn't meant to stir up as much discussion as it did, I honestly thought a "Kobe's 81 points vs. Wilt's 100 points" post I've planned for later in the week would run that dance, but yesterday's Kobe vs. LeBron post drew in excess of 4000 comments. I stopped reading after 81 or so: as is usually the case, some are funny, heaps are dripping with misogyny, most miss the point, and the overwhelming bulk would send your computer's spell-checker into conniptions.  

So it's as good a time as any to clear up a few misconceptions about the post, and defend myself and my stance against those who appear to take great delight in putting words in my mouth.  

* It's nice to see, after years of being called a "LeBron hater" through my work at various sites (for some reason I seemed to be the only one pointing out how much better his team seemed to fare when he drove more to the basket, instead of relying on fadeaway jumpers for his offense ... this made me a "hater."), the term has now been switched over to Kobe. Apparently, I can't stop hating. News to me. I thought I only despised Don Henley with every ounce I could muster, but apparently I'm housing enmity for dozens of other people without even knowing it.

* Anyone that could deduce that I "must hate Kobe" from a column that led off with a "Kobe Bryant is freakin' awesome;" declaration, truly, must be a nutter. This wasn't an attempt to disarm: Kobe Bryant is a brilliant talent who was unfairly maligned for years without deserving it.  

* I'm an impartial observer. If either Kobe or LeBron were wearing the Chicago red and black, then you might have a quibble, but I've nothing to gain from promoting either of them beyond a point that they deserve. The truth is what I'm after, here.

As far as looking for attention or being a self-promoter ... please. I turn down radio interview requests. I barely answer email from anyone except my bosses, and I can hardly be bothered to take a picture of myself for this website. I covet attention like Isiah Thomas covets pass-first point guards.

* Lose the whining about including statistics.

I use stats when I need a quick way to qualify what I've seen on the court, over and over, and within the space limitations of a blog post. I present them with caveats when necessary (and they're almost always necessary), and do so with the confidence that comes from being as well-prepared as anyone I've ever known when it comes to writing about this game, and this league.  

No NBA scribe watches and re-watches more games than I do. Every time you see a name columnist you see sitting on press row watching a single game that evening, understand that I'm at home going through each of that night's three-to-13 games; Tivo'ing several, burning them to DVD the next day, and working my ass off to be a step ahead of everyone else.  

Anyone who tries the, "watch some games once in a while, and lay off the stats"-bit with me really just isn't getting it; or getting much of anything as far as I can gather. I go to stats when they pair up with what I watch, and re-watch, over and over and over again.  

* Just for giggles, try entering into an argument over who is having the best season among Manu Ginobili, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant. I'm not even going to get into the per-minute numbers, loyal readers, so understand that this particular bullet point is for the punters:

Both Ginobili (in far less minutes than Kobe), McGrady, and Pierce score less, rebound a bit less, and dish fewer assists than Kobe. They are offering, per game, about 80 percent of what Kobe offers. Try insisting that any of the three have been better this season than Mr. Bryant, and you'd be rightfully laughed off.  

And yet, those who still consider Bryant to be having the better season than LeBron have no issue overlooking the fact that Bryant scores less, shoots worse, rebounds worse, assists worse, and plays on a team that averages fewer possessions than James' team. To them, Kobe's better because ... well, he just is.

* Much in the same way I'm not going to hand LeBron the MVP based on the two times the Cavs beat the Lakers this season, I'm not going to give Kobe the award for his play on Sunday. Kobe played much, much better than LeBron did, but I'll leave making snap judgments based on one or two-game sample sizes to those who (I hope) cannot stand themselves after doing so.  

Going further, I'm not going to hand James an MVP award merely because his team is 0-6 when he sits a game out. The 76ers would probably drop six out of six with Andre Miller on the pine. That shouldn't sway anyone.  

* The, "LeBron plays in the East!" cry is getting a little old. LBJ averages 29.8 points, 47.4 percent shooting, 7.1 assists, and 7.9 rebounds against Western teams. When James plays, the Cavs are 16-11 against the West. Kobe averages 29.7 points, 48.8 percent shooting, 6.5 boards, and 5.4 assists (again, in games with more possessions) against the West -- awesome -- but for some reason lets his averages go to relative pot against the East.  

You'd think it'd be because of the Lakers blowing Eastern teams out, but Kobe actually averages more minutes per game against Eastern squads than against Western outfits, and contributes less. Weird.  

* The guy has been in the league since 1996, and while he's been a polarizing figure at times (to say the least), I don't understand why we have to term anyone who says anything good or not-as-good-as-you'd-expect about Kobe into either placed in the bollock-riding or hater camps.  

Can't we have a bit of nuance? Has ESPN ruined us all? Can't we do away with these black and white arguments? I thought you people hated having to listen to Sean Salisbury and Skip Bayless's bluster, so why are we emulating their commenting "style" at every given instance?  

It's quite possible that, after devouring dozens of hours of 2007-08 game tape from both these players, I deduced that LeBron James was having a better (if not significantly better) season than Kobe Bryant. Assuming that readers wouldn't give me the benefit of the doubt in spite of my hard work going over these things, I went to the stat ledger, where it revealed LeBron James to be a good step ahead of Kobe Bean in just about every single category, while doing more across the board during clutch situations.  

That's it. And, as it was last season when the best player in the NBA (and Dirk was) during the regular season got the award, and as it should have been during 2005-06, when the best player in the NBA (Kobe) should have gotten the award, I think the best player in the NBA should be handed the MVP.  

I refuse to penalize James for having to work with lesser talents, just as we should have passed on penalizing Kobe for having to work with Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, and others. It's not James' fault that he's surrounded by middling talent, just as it wasn't Kobe's fault that Mitch Kupchak took years to get his act together.

To these eyes, LeBron has done more. And on the stat sheet, the "done more" part is ably represented.  

It is possible that conventional wisdom, and the easy answers shouted your way by cable and broadcast TV denizens, might be a bit off. Others might want to latch on to easy answers to be able to ensure that everyone agrees with them. There's nothing wrong with that. A lot of the time, the easy answer is the right answer. But when the easy answer doesn't mesh with what I'm seeing on the court, I'm going to dig deeper.

I understand that the game never stops teaching us new things, and I'm not going to apologize for that.

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