Esteemed journalist Rachel Nichols said on ESPN that, “There are people who say that he (LeBron James) should be ahead of the MVP race just because of what he’s doing, where he’s doing it, and now of course the burden with everything that happened with that team and Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.”
Now, it’s important to know that Nichols herself did not have this opinion, but rather there are people out there who do. You can make a case for James winning MVP without bringing up the death of an icon. That sentiment, and an expectation that the Lakers need to win a championship for Bryant are both out of line.
James is averaging the most assists per game in the league at 10.8, 25.0 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. The Lakers are the number one team in the West at 41-12 and have a net rating of +8.5 when James is on the court and they’re a minus -0.8 when he sits.
James is the sole creator of the Lakers offense, the orchestrator of the league’s second-best offense. There are a myriad of cases you can make for James as your MVP, but him leading the Lakers after the death of Bryant shouldn’t be one of them.
Bryant and his daughter passed away. This isn’t like when James promised the rest of Cleveland Cavaliers players in 2016 that if they played well in game six of the 2016 NBA Finals that he would promise them game seven. This isn’t like when Kobe put the Lakers on his back in the 2000 Finals against the Indiana Pacers after Shaquille O’Neal fouled it. Though basketball consumed the life of Bryant for 20 years, his death is bigger than basketball.
James’ words about Bryant were so poetic and profound that they will be remembered forever. The Lakers lost their first home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. The loss didn’t resonate after the game was played, the moment of LeBron James’ speaking about his brother and his composure are what struck who watched the game.
One part of his speech in particular struck out to me. James said, “Now I know at some point we’re going to have a memorial for Kobe. But I look at this, I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the everything, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight, we celebrate the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38, and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years, man.”
That’s how the Lakers can honor the player formerly known as the Black Mamba. The franchise needs to go out and give the same effort, the same dedication to the game that Bryant gave.
Bryant’s work ethic was the most important aspect of him. He was never going to get outworked and he had the hardware to show for it. For as great as the 20 year pro from Philadelphia was, he didn’t win the championship every year. That isn’t what the Mamba Mentality was all about. The Mamba Mentality was all about the process, not the results.
We as a people always get caught up in the result, not the process. It takes a tremendous amount of luck to win a championship in every sport. A lot of outside factors can impact a championship that are out of the Lakers and James’ hands.
In an interview from the 2016 all-star game, Bryant talked about the ASG MVP award. Bryant and former Atlanta Hawk, Bob Petit, are tied for the most ASG MVPs in NBA history and he was in a position to get maybe his fifth. However, he didn’t want the players to go easy on him because of his competitive nature.
“If you want to do something for me, come out and compete and have a good, competitive game. Then let’s win the game. The minutes I play, I’m going to compete,” Bryant told TNT’s Craig Sager.
Take the all-star game that was played on Feb. 16th., those guys came out and played hard. The game was competitive instead of the lackadaisical play that happens year after year. Bryant didn’t want anything handed to him, he wanted to go out and earn it. That’s the spirit that Bryant possessed. If the Lakers want to honor Kobe, there shouldn’t be this expectation that they’ll come up short in honoring him by not winning. Kobe’s death was a tragedy, a championship isn’t going to compensate for his death.