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The Kobe vs. LeBron Finals We Almost Had

Despite the fact that many people believe Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, there are some people that think otherwise. The people that don’t believe Jordan is the greatest of all time make their case for guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, who have both been two of the biggest stars in the game of basketball over the last twenty years.

Bryant has been compared to Jordan because of how similar their careers were, along with how they both played the game in a similar fashion. James draws comparisons of Jordan because of his all-around incredible repertoire of skills. Once Jordan retired in 2003, Bryant and James became the two faces of the NBA. 

In the year 2009, the world was almost fortunate enough to witness Bryant and James face off against each other in the NBA Finals; a match-up the people were massively craving. Unfortunately, that did not happen as a result of the Cleveland Cavaliers losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic in six games despite James averaging a whopping 38.5 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, and 8 assists per game. 

The Lakers would wind up facing the Magic in the NBA Finals and managed to beat them in five games, as Bryant won his fourth championship and his first Finals MVP averaging 32.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game. Bryant and the Lakers went on to win the championship the next year against the Boston Celtics, as Bryant again was named Finals MVP, and won his fifth and last NBA Championship. 

After that, James would go on to dominate the 2010’s by making the NBA Finals eight years in a row and winning three titles and three Finals MVPs. First with the Miami Heat, where he won back to back titles in 2012 and 2013. And then in 2016; a year after he decided to go back home and play once again for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he carried the Cavs when they were down 3-1 against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, and ultimately won Cleveland their first sports title in 52 years. 

Rewinding back to the 2009 season, seeing an NBA Finals match-up featuring James vs. Bryant would have been one for the ages. Especially when you consider the fact that they were arguably the two best players in the game at the time. 

It’s pretty clear that Bryant and the Lakers would probably have the edge over the Cavaliers in the series for a variety of reasons. Despite the fact that the Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA during the 2008-09 season, it would be surprising to see them finding a way to beat the Lakers in the Finals. Especially when you consider that the Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in six games, while the Lakers beat them relatively comfortably in five games. 

Some additional ways that would also give the Lakers the edge over the Cavaliers in that possible series are that as a team, the Lakers were more well-rounded, had more depth, and had a much better coach who was extremely battle-tested. 

This is evident when you compare the two rosters. Even though everyone knew Bryant was the best player on the team, he didn’t do everything on his own. He had players like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum who were both strong interior presences on offense and defense. The Lakers also had Phil Jackson as their coach who many have considered being the greatest coach of all time, after winning 11 championships during his illustrious coaching career. 

The Cavaliers, on the other hand, had James, who was carrying the entire team on his back, as he averaged 28.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game. Some of the other players on that team were guys like Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who were all very solid players during their career, but not nearly on the same level as the supporting pieces that were on the Lakers roster.  

The Cavaliers head coach at the time was Mike Brown, who was named coach of the year for the 2008-09 season after going 66-16 during the regular season. Brown was very successful during his tenure in Cleveland although, after coming up short multiple times in the playoffs, he was fired. Since then he has never been able to replicate the same kind of success as a head coach. 

With all of that being said, an NBA Finals match-up in 2009 between James and Bryant would still have been very captivating to watch. The world would get a chance to see the two best in the game go against each other on the game’s biggest stage. Especially with James winning the MVP that season, and still searching for his first NBA title at the time, you know he would be eager to get that monkey off his back.

If James were to get his first title over a player like Bryant, this would require James to put the entire team on his back due to the deficiency of talent that he had around him. And even though the series could have potentially been very one-sided in the Lakers’ favor, James would still manage to put on a great show and make the series one to remember.

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