As the Lakers prepare to take on the Magic and the Cavs this week, I am reminded of the fact that Kobe never got to face off against LeBron in the NBA Finals. The last nine NBA Finals have included these two men, yet never both of them in the same year. The one year we can all look back to where this matchup should have happened is 2009.
Everything was steamrolling towards a Lakers-Cavs Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the regular season, going 66-16 and going into the playoffs as the East’s #1 seed, while the Lakers went 65-17, capturing the West’s first seed by eleven games. LeBron, in perhaps the best season of his career, easily won his first of four MVP awards. Kobe Bryant finished second in MVP voting, one year after his lone win. The league and its fans were excited to see who would prevail and take home the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA champion.
Bryant and the Lakers did their part, beating the Nuggets in six games en route to the Finals for the second straight year. One day later, LeBron James and the Cavaliers fell to the Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, ending their season and everybody’s hopes for a Kobe-LeBron Final.
How did this happen? Why were we robbed of seeing the two greatest players of this generation, both at the top of their games, face off in the ultimate NBA test. I don’t think anybody will ever be able to explain how the locomotive that was the league MVP (who averaged over 38 points in the series) and his team with the NBA’s best record could be stopped in their tracks by an elite center in a league where the elite center was dying.
And as Kobe’s career winds down and he plays in the last games of his career, I think everyone will still ask “what if.” What if they faced off? Would the result have been the answer to the never ending Kobe vs. LeBron ‘who’s better’ debate? Unfortunately, we will never know – we can only appreciate what each of them has brought to the league the last nine years.