It was supposed to be 2009. Whoops, thanks Orlando and your ridiculously hot shooting. Then it was supposed to be 2010. Whoops, Boston strikes again. Then, no, seriously, surely it has to be 2011, we don’t even have the rest of the Cavs to blame it on. Whoops, Dallas denied. And now we’re on the verge of losing our last chance, the last good opportunity we’ll have. There will be a million reasons why losing the entire 2011-2012 season to the lockout would be a crushing disappointment for everyone who cares about the NBA. And inside that million reasons is this.
It’s our last chance for Kobe vs. LeBron in the Finals.
Don’t get me wrong. The stories told in each of those seasons was more than worthy, especially last year’s vindication of the Mark Cuban tactical approach. The Mavericks were worthy champions, Dirk a phenomenal champion, the storybook ending both different and fascinating at the same time. But we need this. We’re not going to have another chance, not with Kobe at anything worth comparing.
The thing is, many will say it’s irrelevant for one reason or another. Kobe’s too old. LeBron would just fail in the clutch again, anyway. The Heat’s super-team makes it illegitimate as a match-up. But there are factors to consider here. For starter’s, Kobe Bryant is coming off the most rest he will have had in four seasons. He’s had time to rest, have surgery, recover, condition, improve (if that’s possible) and get his legs back. He’s going to be his voracious self, only even more motivated to get back on top. If anyone can have a bounce-back season at 33, it’s Bryant. James’ failures have not come at the hands of the Lakers, not for many years. His recent Cavaliers and Heat teams have dominated Bryant. Bryant won both matchups against the Cavs in 2009, and in the four meetings since, the King has topped the champ. James is 10-5 all-time versus Bryant, which is a pretty good record against the best player in the league over the past ten years.
And for all the Heat’s talent, the Lakers feature just as much if not more, though everyone conveniently overlooks Lamar Odom and Ron Artest playing for significantly under market value. The Heat have more star power, the Lakers have more depth and a better overall team.
A Finals contest between the two would settle an age-old debate. Just kidding, it would solve nothing. But it would make for fantastic television, and provide an even better addition to the narrative of both’s careers. James would have a chance to finally become a champion by beating the five-time champion. Bryant would have a chance to tie Jordan for rings by toppling the supposed best player in the world. Live chats, message boards and comment sections would feature enough vitriol from both sides of the debate to bring Vigo from “Ghostbusters II” back to life. It would be a river of bile and it would be incredibly fun to watch.
The two have been linked for the past half-decade, a forced commercial string jinxing their inevitable conflict into oblivion. Yes, the NBA has its fair share of terrible, forced storylines and overblown hype machines. But this one would be worth the price of admission. The two best basketball players over the past four years, with one having represented their conference in the Finals in each of the past five seasons. This needs to happen, before it’s too late. So please, owners, players, if you won’t do it for the fans, will you at least do it for Nike? Poor, unloved, under-profiting Nike?