Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
We’ve all done it… Sat back in our seats with our hands on our heads and blank stares on our faces with one singular thought: “Why in the world did you pass that, LeBron?” It’s a question that some would answer by describing him as selfless while others will chalk it up to being passive (the pun is intended). LeBron is apt to passing in crunch time situations because he doesn’t know the one thing that the rest of the world does: he’s the best basketball player on the planet.
When LeBron isn’t passing the ball in the fourth quarter, he can do quite a bit of damage. We’ve seen that. What remains to be seen is why he doesn’t do that on a consistent basis. Granted, it can be argued that with his court vision and passing abilities sometimes he ought to give it up with the clock winding down, but I wouldn’t be so quick to make that assertion.
I’ll start by saying that if you’re the best player in the world, the ball belongs in your hands when the game is on the line. Most would agree with this claim. The secondary claim I’ll make is that you should also be taking the shot. While there are exceptions to this–particularly the last assist in that clip–the majority of the time you should be the one to put the nail on the coffin. LeBron James doesn’t do this often times because he’s looking to be a play-maker rather than a scorer. I say this: be a play-maker all you want in the first three quarters of the game but down the stretch you have to take over. This is what separates LeBron James from Kobe Bryant.
In a phone interview Kobe Bryant stated that if he had to start a team with anyone in the NBA it would LeBron James. Why? “Because he’s a pass-first guy and I’m a gunner.” Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a pass-first guy but there are times where passing shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind (like crunch time, for example). When the game is on the line for the Lakers there’s only one guy who everyone looks to for the last shot and rightfully so.
Let’s compare Kobe and LeBron, according to the statistics. As a base we’ll have to use the last full season where Kobe was healthy, which was the 2012-2013 season. According to the official stats on NBA.com, LeBron James averaged three shots in the fourth quarter, compared to Kobe’s five. That might not sound like much but once stretched across an 82-game season it’s a big difference. The fact of the matter is in the fourth quarter Kobe just takes more shots than LeBron. To be fair, Kobe takes more shots than LeBron in general, but we’re only talking about down the stretch here.
Why does this happen? It all boils down to confidence. Confidence is not something that Kobe lacks. Confidence is what has forged his legacy to this day and it’s what has helped him in gaining five rings along the way (challenge me on that, I dare you). It’s not that LeBron isn’t confident at all, he can just use a little boost. If he were to acknowledge himself as the best player in the NBA then he would likely play like it. It’s not to say he should come right out and say that but he shouldn’t have to if his game reflected it. The two players are outstanding talents in their own right but there’s a reason why Kobe’s called the Black Mamba.
It’s why Steve Kerr referred to the fourth quarter as “Kobe Time” in a 2006 game against the Cavs. Kobe’s mentality is just on another level in comparison to LeBron. It’s possible that LeBron could get there but it definitely doesn’t come as naturally to him. Let me clarify here by saying that I’m not suggesting that Kobe is better than LeBron because that’s not the case at all. With respect to being an all-around basketball player the odds are heavily in LBJ’s favor. But when it comes to the ability to be a coldblooded assassin and demand that the defense respects you Kobe has the advantage every time. Enjoy.