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.