To the untrained eye of the casual basketball fan, the NBA’s All-Star Weekend is usually seen as a frivolous break in a season already too long to enjoy watching.
But to the more hardcore fan, All-Star Weekend is a canvas for the world’s best basketball player to showcase the artistic side of game increasingly dominated by numbers.
In a season already filled with drama, those who turned away from the NBA during the break missed perhaps a defining moment in the career of one of the league’s most defining players: LeBron James.
This year’s All-Star game happened to coincide with the 50th birthday of the NBA’s most valuable MVP and greatest competitor: his Airness, Michael Jordan. In an ESPN interview, Jordan hinted at returning to the game and relayed that he had been studying James’s game. He noted that when James dribbles to the right he drives to the basket, but pulls up for a jump shot when he dribbles to the left. Giving us insight to his cerebral approach to the game, Jordan explained that if he had to guard James, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”
In the 4th quarter of the All-Star game, oft-criticized for its lack of defense, Kobe Bryant implemented the strategy Jordan had laid out. The result, two blocks and a steal for the 35 year-old Bryant, and two points for the 28 year-old James. During a timeout break, viewers could see Bryant talking trash to James. Social media erupted with tweets and posts claiming Bryant is still better than James. After the game, Kevin Durant said he had never seen an NBA player have a jump shot blocked like he saw Bryant block James. The period was a central topic of discussion in sports media the day after. The thing the sports world had come to a consensus upon, just a week ago – that LeBron was better than Kobe – was now in serious question.
To be fair to James, it was just one quarter of a game that means nothing to many people.
For LeBron, it seems that he takes the All-Star break as a much needed holiday in the middle of a demanding season. Kobe’s ultra competitive spirit leads him to take the All-Star as serious as any other game. Much of the Kobe vs. LeBron debate in the media will center around each player’s personality, because journalists, and radio and television hosts can make entertaining and passionate arguments about personality all day, albeit baseless and circular.
The casual fan might get caught up in these arguments, but the hardcore fan will be watching to see if other teams are able to use Jordan’s strategy to slow down a LeBron James who has been imposing his will on defenses all year long.