Kobe Schmobe: Why Lebron is the Real MVP

Basketball is about assimilation. Integration. I’m not talking about racial integration, although the game has obviously been well-served by that as well. I’m talking integration in the sense of the American Heritage definition of the word: “The state of combination or the process of combining into completeness and harmony.” Yes. Harmony. That’s what I’m talking about. Five players moving in perfect rhythm, whether on offense or defense, such that the movements and actions of one player ripple down through the movements and actions of the other four. When it’s done right, when it’s really good, it is, to use a timeworn metaphor, not unlike sex.

If great team basketball is like sex then Kobe Bryant’s game is like, well, um, lets just say that it sometimes looks like he’s trying to do it all by himself out there. This is not to say that his game is not spectacular. Kobe Bryant is a talented and elegant athlete. He is an excellent offensive player and scorer, although not always the most efficient one. His athleticism is apparent on defense as well, making him tantalizingly close to being a great and complete player. What he lacks, however, particularly on offense, is integration. What Kobe does on the court is often great and always fun to watch. However, it is generally not well-synchronized with the games of his teammates. When compared to the greats of recent vintage, players like Bird, Magic, and, yes, even the great scorer Michael Jordan, the gaping hole in Kobe’s game is painfully clear. He does not make his teammates better. He does not lift his team up, aside from what he accomplishes on his own. Separately. While his teammates stand around and watch.

Is Kobe selfish? Personally, I believe that he is. My gut tells me that his statements about the importance of team and the ultimate priority of winning are phony. Logic confirms this as well. If winning was the ultimate priority, why, then, did Kobe not accommodate Shaquille O’Neal when Shaq was in town and the team was winning championships? What possible reason could Kobe have had for being unhappy in such circumstances? Winning means everything, right? In reality, of course, winning wasn’t the most important thing for Kobe Bryant. The important thing was that it was “his” team. The important thing was that the spotlight shined on “him.” I am convinced that, if in a dark and private moment, an angel came down from basketball heaven and offered Kobe Bryant his choice of an NBA Championship or an MVP award, he would choose the latter. In a second. Look at Kobe’s actions, not his words, if you want to see his true character. Or just look at his game. Even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that Kobe truly is an unselfish team player, it is apparent that he doesn’t understand how to gel with four other players. His basketball I.Q., which is considerable, lacks this particular kind of intelligence necessary for any player to achieve greatness. Kobe’s idea of being a team player is to not shoot the ball for a given period of time, let his teammates try to score, and then, if the team falls behind or the game is on the line, take things into his own hands once again. This is not integration. This is selective self-assertion.

Integration, as it turns out, is also the fundamental difference between Kobe and Lebron James. Lebron James can take over a game offensively as quickly and spectacularly as Kobe can. The difference is that he makes his teammates better in the process. This is the deadly combination that makes a player truly valuable. It is this type of player alone that is capable of elevating a group of mid-range players to the NBA Finals in consecutive years. Kobe has never been able to do this. Yes, he wants to win. But the only thing he knows how to do is to try and put such a team on his back and carry them. Lebron can do this as well when the situation calls for it. What he can also do, and what Kobe can’t, is empower his teammates.

For those stat-geeks out there, the numbers offer strong support for my assertion that Lebron is the better and more valuable player. In order to comprehend the differences between Lebron’s game and Kobe’s, it’s useful to compare them both to the stratospheric Jordan standard. It’s rather surprising how many modern fans and even media commentators, who should know better, are quick to imply that Kobe has reached Jordan’s level as an offensive player. This must be based on the fact that, night-in, night-out, Kobe makes plays that show up on ESPN and look as spectacular as anything Jordan ever did. Problem is, ESPN never seems to show all those bad shots that Kobe took. All the times that he drove into the teeth of three converging defenders and threw up a log while teammates stood flatfooted all around him. All the times that he dribbled around the perimeter and tossed up an off-balance floater as the shot clock went off. In moments like these, Kobe is sometimes a little too easy to defend. Because he’s not integrated.

Here’s a hint: If you really want to understand what an astounding offensive player Jordan was, look at his field goal percentages. Jordan shot .497 from the floor for his career. He shot over .500 six times and was over .480 another four times. Think about that. He was guard. He played on the perimeter, away from the basket, and he made more than half of his shots. In the 1988-89 season, Jordan was 10th overall in the NBA with a mind-blowing .538 percentage. The nine players ahead of him were Rodman, Barkley, Parish, Ewing, Worthy, McHale, Otis Thorpe, Benoit Benjamin, Larry Nance. All big men. All guys who took the vast majority of their shots in the paint. And yet Jordan was in the same category in terms of offensive efficiency. This indicates that, even though he was not necessarily an outstanding passer, he was in synch with his teammates. He knew when to take his shot. He knew the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. And, yes, he could create shots better than Kobe as well.

Bryant, by comparison, has never shot higher than .469 from the field in any given season. Think about this the next time you’re inclined to think that Kobe is in Jordan’s league as an offensive player. Think about this as well: Jordan averaged 5.3 assists per game in his career with an individual season high of 8.0 per game in ‘88-‘89. Bryant, on the other hand, averages 4.6 for his career with an individual season high of 6.0. Not only was Jordan a more efficient scorer, but he created more scoring opportunities for his teammates.

In Lebron’s case, the stats tell an equally compelling story. What they tell us is that Lebron, not Kobe, is the real heir to Michael Jordan. Whereas Kobe, as mentioned above, has never topped .469 from the field, Lebron, over the last four seasons, has gone .472/.480/.476/.482. While he’s not quite on Jordan’s level just yet, he’s within range. As this indicates, his shot selection and offensive efficiency are far superior to Kobe’s. In fact, he’s statistically superior to Kobe in virtually every aspect of the game. Those who argue Kobe over Lebron for MVP should take a look at the numbers. Lebron averages more points per game (30.2/28.5), more rebounds (7.9/6.3), more assists (7.3/5.4), and a higher FG% (.482/.460). Defensively they are tied in steals (1.8 each) and Lebron is more likely to block a shot (1.1/0.5). If your appreciation and knowledge of the game is not sufficient to allow your naked eye to the see the superiority of Lebron over Kobe, how, after seeing these numbers, can anyone possibly claim that Kobe is the better player?

Perhaps, if he’s lucky, Kobe Bryant will turn out in the end to have a career comparable to Clyde Drexler’s. (At the current time, Kobe’s rebounds per game, assists per game, and FG% are below Clyde the Glide’s career numbers). And there’s nothing wrong with that. Kobe is one of the best players of his time and a future hall of famer. However, he is not the next coming of Michael Jordan. And he is not the best player of his time. That honor goes to Lebron James. He is the best player. He is the MVP. He is not only better than Kobe Bryant but, in fact, far superior.

For me, the one thing that really sums up Kobe Bryant’s game, and maybe even who he is as a person, is his now infamous comment that, when he was in high school, he would sometimes let other teams back into the game towards the end just so he could take a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. For anyone who has ever played team basketball, this is a rather alarming notion. What about the other players on Kobe’s high school team? Did they factor into his decision at all? They were working and playing to win the game, not to serve one man’s narcissistic daydream. And what about the guys on the bench, the ones who showed up for practice but didn’t always get into the game? Did it ever occur to Kobe that it might be nice to blow the other team out so that some of his teammates might get a chance to play too? Apparently it did not. Apparently he was not well-integrated with the eleven other boys on his high school team. It’s a tough problem for a basketball player to have, a bit of an Achilles’ heel, and it haunts him to this day.

As for Lebron, I refer you to the highlights of a recent game (Wednesday, April 9). The Cavs, down by 14 midway through the third quarter, came back to win as Lebron scored 33 points on 11-for-21 shooting along with 7 boards and 8 assists. The highlights on ESPN were full of shots of Lebron slashing to the basket and sticking jumpers from downtown. But it was one play in particular, an assist, that stood out to me. Lebron dribbled the ball on the perimeter. Cav big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas lumbered out and seemed to be setting up for the pick-n-roll. But Lebron moved away from the pick, luring not only his own defender but Ilgauskas’s as well. As both defenders locked in on Lebron, frozen for just a split second, Ilgauskas released, cutting back towards the basket, and Lebron whipped him a perfect pass for a layup and three point play. As a big man, Zydrunas Ilgauskas may not be the next coming of Bill Russell. More like Bill Cartwright. But that’s okay, because he plays with Lebron. And the Cavs are in sync. Integrated. It was a pass that made you stand up and cheer. When, I ask you, was the last time Kobe Bryant made a pass that made you stand up and cheer? Still thinking? Yeah. Me too.


The O’Reilly Rebuttal

If you really want to get a feel for what “The O’Reilly Factor” is all about, you really just have to watch the last few seconds of any episode. It is in these last few seconds, every night of the week, when Bill O’Reilly looks into the camera, tells his viewers that “We’re looking out for YOU,” and then flashes a big smile. It’s the phoniest moment on all of television. And that’s saying something. Take a look- O’Reilly’s smile in this moment is completely forced and artificial to the point of being strangely creepy. The smile is a lie. He is not a happy, jovial man but, rather, an angry and vicious one. Equally dishonest in this moment is the idea that Bill O’Reilly is looking out for YOU. O’Reilly fancies himself a straight-talker but in reality he’s a used car salesman of Clintonian proportions. His approach on The Factor is much more closely aligned with the role of lawyer than journalist. Journalists are seekers of truth. O’Reilly, in contrast, thinks he already knows the truth. He starts every show with a firmly set agenda and his purpose is to convince as many viewers as possible- the TV-land jury- to embrace his conservative view. Guests on his show are not sources of information, they are witnesses being cross-examined by O’Reilly for the purpose of proving a pre-conceived point. A quick look at just a few prominent issues of the day demonstrates the skill and dishonesty of the O’Reilly approach.




ISSUE #1: The “Left Wing Media:” Since the days of Spiro Agnew’s reference to the news media as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” the conservative movement has been obsessed with the idea of an elite liberal media that systematically persecutes conservative issues and candidates. This assumption has gained considerable momentum in the modern day and, indeed, Ailes and FOX News make little secret of the fact that their network was conceived as a “fair and balanced” response to the liberal elite. Certainly, an honest argument can be made that major newspapers and television news departments have tilted to the left at times. In the hands of propagandists such as Ailes and O’Reilly, however, the concept of the liberal elite media becomes something more: an inoculation against any form of criticism whatsoever. If the media is dominated by a liberal elite conspiracy, the logic goes, then there is no need to respond seriously to outside criticism. Like various conservative politicians, O’Reilly and FOX News use the idea of the liberal elite media as a propaganda tool, an excuse to avoid responding to legitimate inquiries and criticisms from credible sources. The very purpose of the media in a democratic society is to take a critical approach towards those in power. Those in power have traditionally sought to resist such prodding. By trumpeting the myth of the liberal elite media conspiracy, O’Reilly provides rhetorical protection not only for himself, but for the Bush Administration and all politicians of the right as well. The intention, and all too often the effect, is to discredit any form of skeptical media inquiry that originates from anything other than a conservative source.



ISSUE #2: Campaign Finance Reform: The O’Reilly/Ailes double standard often reaches absurd proportions in “The Factor’s” discussions of campaign finance reform. O’Reilly has the remarkable ability to conduct a complete segment about campaign finance-related corruption in which the sole buzzwords are Clinton, Gore, Reno, BuddhistTemple, Riady, etc. Watching such a discussion is truly mystifying. It’s like a video-SAT question: What’s missing from this paragraph? Answer: DeLay, Hastert, McConnell, Bush, Enron, and just about every other lobbyist, politician, and corporate hack, Republican or Democrat, within a 50-mile radius of Washington D.C. Campaign finance reform is, of course, a systemic issue that touches Republicans and Democrats equally. When O’Reilly and Ailes address the issue in terms of the individual moral failings of specific politicians of the left, they exhibit a form of selective myopia that makes for wonderful propaganda.




ISSUE #3: Education: In O’Reilly’s reporting of the education crisis in America, the anchor creates another lie, this time based on a ridiculously simplistic “analysis” of a complex social problem. O’Reilly claims to be outraged by the fact that 60% of poor black fourth graders cannot read. Perhaps he really is. So whose fault is it? It’s the fault of the left, of course. In a compelling example of strangely twisted logic, O’Reilly offers the following analysis of the education issue: Bill Clinton and the federal government failed miserably. They wasted billions of dollars on public education and, still, our schools are not working. Based on this, O’Reilly asserts that it is foolish for democrats to ask for a larger investment in education. Although he is not clear on what the answer to the problem is, O’Reilly is sure of one thing: Our schools suck and he doesn’t want any more of his tax money spent on them!


Once again, Ailes and O’Reilly have achieved the desired propaganda effect through their application of selective myopia. In blaming the education problem on the left, O’Reilly conveniently ignores a few minor details such as the fact that education funding is primarily a state issue, and, most of all, the socioeconomic injustice surrounding school funding. Not once has O’Reilly mentioned the fact that schools are funded largely on the basis of property taxes. The wealthier the neighborhood, the more funding for the school. One way or another, the obvious reason why poor black kids can’t read is because their schools are provided with less funding and resources than schools in wealthier areas. O’Reilly complains about the billions spent on education, but are billions being spent in poor neighborhoods? Although O’Reilly is actually a former teacher, has he checked out a school in the inner city recently? If so, could he possibly walk away with the idea that such schools are getting too much money? The very notion is absurd. Check the facts, it’s a simple equation- more money equals better resources, better teachers, better schools. This is why public schools in middle and upper-class white suburbs are categorically better than schools in poor minority populated inner-city regions. For O’Reilly and Ailes to use the education crisis to make their case for less government spending truly reveals the degree to which they are willing and able to callously part from the truth in the interests of making a point. It also might provide some indication as to the depths of their cynicism.



ISSUE #4: Bush Administration: O’Reilly’s coverage of the Bush administration further typifies the subtle brilliance of Ailes’ propaganda. One word that O’Reilly uses frequently in reference to Bush is “honesty.” Whereas he habitually questions the sincerity and motivations of Democratic pols, O’Reilly conveniently refuses the peek behind whatever superficial veneer that Bush is presenting to public. When it comes to the Democrats, O’Reilly takes it upon himself to say, “this is what they’re really up to.” Most recently, for example, O’Reilly has highlighted a new venture spearheaded by billionaire lefty George Soros which, according to O’Reilly, is setting out to “smear” John McCain in the upcoming general election. This may or may not be the case. The problem, however, is that O’Reilly never provided such behind-the-scenes coverage of the conservative movement to destroy Bill Clinton. Nor, for that matter, has he ever looked into the machinations of the “Swift Boat Veterans” group designed to smear Kerry in 2004. In fact, a leading funder of this group was recently appointed to a cushy ambassadorial position by Bush. Hmmm. So it seems that maybe there are some nefarious smear campaigns emanating from the right as well. However, the O’Reilly Factor will not report on this. Only when liberals conspire in this way will it be exposed on the airways of FOX News. This is the epitome of unfair reporting. Once again, the lies, corruption and hypocrisy are present in equal measures on the left and right. They are by-products of the American political system, not of one particular side. Yet, to be a watcher of the O’Reilly Factor is to be misled into the false idea that the left is prone to dishonest maneuvering while the right is generally populated by a bunch of swell, honest fellas.


For pro-Bush propagandists such as O’Reilly and Ailes, the real secret to covering the Bush Administration is not covering the Bush Administration, not with any sort of critical eye at least. Ailes understands better than anyone that Bush’s handlers are working night and day to sculpt a public image, to generate photo ops and spew carefully tailored rhetoric that Bush will inevitably deliver like a fourth-grader reading a book report in class that his sister wrote for him. Good propaganda seeks to amplify the public image and, at all costs, avoid contradicting it. On “The Factor,” you’ll rarely see an attempt to penetrate whatever image, idea, or explanation is being projected to the world. As O’Reilly tells it, Bush is basically a nice, honest guy who believes in less intrusive government. O’Reilly demonstrates no inclination to shed the same critical light on the Bush presidency that he shines on liberal icons such as Janet Reno, Jesse Jackson, and, of course, the Clintons. And he won’t. While FOX News may criticize Bush’s political maneuvering, his handling of the war (how can you not?) or his ability to “sell his ideas” to the American people, they won’t criticize Bush’s sincerity or honesty. This, of course, would threaten the bottom-line of post-Clinton conservative propaganda: Democrats dishonest and immoral/Republicans honest and moral.


Based on “The Factor’s” coverage of Bush, as well as its treatment of the other issues highlighted above, it is apparent that Ailes and O’Reilly are hardly dedicated to providing “fair and balanced” journalism. O’Reilly’s show is not about truth, it’s about propaganda. And it’s about power. O’Reilly knows that the media has the power to shape public opinion, and he gets off on it. One of the watershed moments in the history of “The Factor” came when O’Reilly greeted Al Gore’s former campaign manager with the following: “Did you know that Al Gore would have won the election if he had come on The Factor? We have many viewers in Florida, and if had come on here and taken the hard questions and acquitted himself well, I believe he would have won the election.” Note that O’Reilly was not speculating that Gore might have won if he came on the show, he was telling Gore’s campaign manager that he absolutely would have. Thus, the entire fate of the 2000 presidential campaign, the most powerful office in the free-world, all came down to an interview, or lack thereof, with Bill O’Reilly? And he calls the so-called liberal elite media “condescending?” Can you say meg-a-lo-maniac? Good, because Bill O’Reilly is a dangerous guy. Or at least he would like to be. Hiding behind his self-constructed persona as a “man of the people,” Bill O’Reilly is really an angry man with an agenda and a belief that he’s powerful enough to sell it and you’re stupid enough to buy it.


Man Down: Pats Face Uncertain Season Without Brady

Call it what you want. Black Sunday. The Day the Music Died. I call it The Reckoning. And I swear I saw this coming. Not this precisely, but something like this. Something bad. Remember that sinking feeling you had in the moment that Eli Manning escaped the clutches of a mad rush and unleashed a guided laser straight into the improbable hands, or helmet, or some combination thereof, of David Tyree? As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I’ve had the nagging sensation that the downward trajectory of that moment had extended through the off-season and would carry over somehow, some way, into 2008. And there it was on Sunday, this mysterious negative force, tripping its way into the New England backfield, flailing around on the turf at Gillette Stadium, tangling itself up in Tom Brady’s wheels. Many times in his 127 consecutive games as starter Brady had been hit harder than this. And every time he had gotten up. Every time. Except this one. Why now? Why this? Because the New England Patriots, and Tom Brady, had tempted fate. Because you don’t just go 18-0, you don’t just have the audacity to chase football immortality, to hold yourself up as the greatest ever, and then lose the Super Bowl, shrug it off and go home. You fall. And you fall hard.

Now, of course, I realize that there is no logical, rational connection between losing the Super Bowl and Tom Brady getting injured. But since when is logic and rationality a part of Boston sports? When is it a part of life, for that matter? Remember The Curse? Its subsequent reversal? Remember that little Leprechaun we all used to talk about, hovering around Boston Garden, nudging the Celtics towards victory time and again, in the moments when they seemed most overmatched and up against it? And then the other shoe dropped. After decades of terrorizing the league and hoarding titles, there came a reversal of fortune for the Celtics as well.

This is not to say that the Patriots are in line for an extended downturn. Tom Brady will return next season and presumably, hopefully, he will be his old self and the Patriots will return to perennial Super Bowl contention. For now, though, this team must deal with the next fifteen games. Brady and company tore through the league with a vengeance last year, and rest assured that the teams they turned into roadkill will not be sympathetic to this year’s Patriot plight. In short, the Patriots were due, perhaps overdue, for a karmic correction. Welcome to the 2008 NFL season.

Let it be said that the fans are a part of this equation as well. Remember that kid at the Celtics parade with the “I’m 9 years old and I’ve been to 6 parades” sign? I blame him. When I was nine years old I had been to exactly zero parades. My generation, and every Boston sports generation before me, came to understand the ebb and flow of good fortune in ways that today’s youngsters are only beginning to discover. A word of advice to the current generation: tone down the hubris. It ain’t all Suzy Q’s and Mountain Dew. Every rose has its torn ACL.

Then again, perhaps we can find something positive in this 2008 Patriots season. The season now lines up as an interesting experiment. This is the year we find out exactly how valuable Tom Brady really is as a football player. It has been my contention that Tom Brady is actually one of the more underrated players in the NFL. Without Tom Brady there are no championships. He has won with bad receivers and good receivers. He has won as a game manager and as a gunslinger. Bill Belichick has struggled to win elsewhere when Tom Brady was not his quarterback. Tom Brady has always won. Regardless of what he was surrounded by. Remember 2001? This was a Patriots team that was 0-2 and heading nowhere. They had lost their first two games to the Bengals and the Jets. I repeat: the Bengals and the Jets. And then the Brady era began. And you know the rest.

So now we face an interesting proposition. How will the 2008 Patriots fare? Virtually the same roster returns from the team that damn near became the best ever. Remove Tom Brady, insert backup, and what do you get?

You get 9-7. Tops. Second place. No playoffs.

See you in 2009.