There is something that feels off about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour. Maybe it’s the deplorable state of the Los Angeles Lakers and Bryant himself on some nights, maybe it’s just personal feelings towards the soon to be retired player. But the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have also put LeBron James on a pedestal, need to be careful this doesn’t happen to them to.
What do we mean? The Lakers being loyal to a fault with Bryant resulted in this team falling apart and hitting rock bottom, and looking like it’s going to be a while before they climb back up. Yes, some will say that IF David Stern had approved the Chris Paul to Lakers trade things would have been different. But guess what? He was the actual man running the team at that point. And from a person who said his ideal NBA finals would be the Lakers against the Lakers, I find it hard to believe he was purposely trying to hurt them. But maybe there’s some conspiracy theory in the works. The Clippers became popular, but not good enough to break the conference semifinals ceiling. The Pelicans? They’re waiting for a team to form around Anthony Davis. The Lakers? A mess.
The Cavaliers aren’t a mirror image. James is still more or less close to the height of his powers on most nights, finishing with 29 points in the 120-111 win against the Lakers, led by Kyrie Irving who scored 35. All this without Kevin Love in the second half, all being the backdrop to Bryant facing James for one final time in Cleveland. James had dominated the non-rivalry during the regular season, while the two have never played each other in the NBA finals. Are the rumors about a trade in 2007 switching the two are true or not? Doesn’t matter. Not sure it really matters except for a way to hype up the matchup between them, which Bryant of coursed bombed in, scoring 17 points on 5-of-16 from the field, once again trying too hard to leave a good impression.
Some say the Cavaliers might be heading in the same direction eventually, maybe without the NBA titles. James returning to Cleveland made him a savior again. The Cavaliers couldn’t make the playoffs since he left, and immediately made the finals on his first year back from Miami. But is seems that under Tyronn Lue the Cavaliers are trying to become something different. Not always compatible with the style James wants to play in. Will it be enough to actually win an NBA championship? Hard to see them not making the finals, but slow or quick playing doesn’t look like it matters with the Warriors waiting on the other side.
So the James – Bryant rivalry has one more game to go. It was mostly an opportunity for writers to compare the two over the years, and try to pinpoint the moment it became James’ league while Bryant became the second best player (was he ever the best?), falling quickly down the rankings. Historically? Bryant has the rings, James has the MVP awards. It was never really a rivalry on the court. Maybe in the All-Star game for a possession or two. Bryant didn’t change the NBA, he simply excelled in it. It’s probably different for James, although the last two years and what comes after could hurt his legacy like the last few years did for Bryant.