Miami Heat's James listens to a question during media availability for the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston

LeBron says rings alone don’t define a player’s career

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HOUSTON — The argument has been the fallback of Kobe Bryant defenders (he needs defenders?) for years. That it’s about the rings, that’s what makes him better than his peers.

Michael Jordan himself even went there in picking Kobe over LeBron James in a recent interview, saying the five-to-one title disparity decided it.

LeBron was asked about that Friday in Houston for the All-Star Game and gave a smart but kind of long answer. That answer has been reduced by many to a simple sound bite of “rings don’t define me” and people have run with that. Welcome to the modern media (and we have certainly played that game before here).

But LeBron’s full quote makes more valid points — it’s more than just rings.

“That’s his own opinion,” James said of Jordan’s comments. “At the end of the day, rings don’t always define someone’s career. If that was the case, then I would sit up here and say I would take (Celtics legend Bill) Russell over Jordan. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take Russell over Jordan. Russell has 11 rings, Jordan has six. Take, I don’t know, Robert Horry over Kobe. I wouldn’t do that. It’s your own personal opinion. Rings do not define a person’s career….

“You look at a guy (Jordan era Bulls backup) Jud Buechler, he has multiple rings, Charles Barkley does not have one ring. He’s not better than Charles Barkley. Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time, Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes it’s about the situation you’re in, the team you’re in and it’s about timing as well.”

He’s not wrong. But the truth as always lies somewhere in the middle — Barkley and Ewing will forever in part be defined as great players who could not get over the hump. That doesn’t mean they were not legends and do not belong in the Hall of Fame, they unquestionably do.

But rings are still part of the equation. If LeBron’s career ends with just one ring, will we not look back at that as wasted potential and opportunity lost? Of course. But right now we don’t know how many rings LeBron will end his career with.

The problem with comparing Kobe and LeBron is part situation (Kobe landed on a team close to winning titles, LeBron) and part how they adapted and dealt with that. And those are not questions we can fully answer for either of them yet, both are still elite franchise players in the game. Both have a shot at more rings in the coming few years. We can’t fully judge Kobe and LeBron for at least another decade.

Or, we could just sit back, enjoy the moment and say that we are blessed to get to see two of the all-time NBA greats playing at their peak and not try to rank them. We could just savor the moment. That may be the best option of all.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.