Three days ago, Bryan Toporek, featured columnist for The Bleacher Report, published an article debunking myths he felt ran rampant in the NBA. The biggest claims he argued against were of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant being a ball hog and Miami Heat LeBron James not being clutch. Though these two superstars have massive fan bases, they have been attacked time and again for their respective selfishness and propensity for choking. However, Toporek is right in arguing against the validity of these critiques, for the criticism has exceeded its inherent truth.
Kobe Bryant is well known for his bloated ego, and his arrogance was displayed in recent comments about ex-teammate Smush Parker, as well as in his declaration that he has nothing to learn from the younger players in Team USA during the Olympics. His reputation and affinity for isolation basketball has earned him the reputation of being a ball hog, never giving up the rock to his teammates. This view is somewhat justified, as his career usage rate — the percentage of possessions used on the floor — is 31.7 percent, the highest rate in the league for the past two seasons.
The Black Mamba is not completely selfish — experience and the five rings on his fingers have taught him that one individual player cannot win a championship and that a team must be cohesive to reach the top. Bryant has 4.7 assists in a career lasting more than 15 years, a notable statistic for a shooting guard. His role as a facilitator has grown in the current season with Laker point guard Steve Nash sidelined by a fibula fracture. He’s averaged an impressive 6.6 assists over the past five games and even posted a triple-double with 11 assists against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 18.
Furthermore, Bryant has the right, to an extent, to control the ball as much as he does. One of the most clutch players in the NBA, Bryant has won countless games for the Lakers by sinking buzzer beaters from every spot on the court and pulling off acrobatic finishes in the final seconds of close contests. His isolation basketball has no doubt cost his team at times, especially when he runs down the shot clock and takes a poor, contested shot, but his successes far outweigh his failures. There is no denying that Kobe Bryant is a shoot-first, pass-second player, but he is not the ball hog he is painted to be, as statistics and observation have proven he possesses some willingness to share.
LeBron James, after his nationally aired decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, is without a doubt the most resented player in the NBA. Despite being the stat-stuffing machine he is on court, the superstar forward wages a solitary war on the idea that he is not a clutch athlete. His first championship ring, acquired last season, silenced some critics, but a majority still believe he shrinks in the final, most important moments of games.
In reality, throughout his career King James has played an integral role in his team’s successes in all four quarters, from tipoff to the sound of the buzzer. His huge buzzer-beating three-pointer against the Orlando Magic in game two of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, the most famous game-winner in Cleveland sports history, is just one example of his clutch and vital contributions to his team. Statistics drive the point home.
In the 30 minutes of clutch time (the last five minutes of a game leading or trailing by under six points) that LeBron has played this season, he is averaging an unbelievable 34.8 points (63 percent field goal percentage and 9.6 field goal attempts), 10.8 rebounds and 9.6 assists. His efficiency rating in clutch time is the highest in the league currently and for last season. LeBron James may have a target on his back for millions of basketball fans, especially those in Ohio, but he excels when his team needs him the most.
Karthik Ramakrishnan is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]