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Who's better: Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady? So, as long as we're debating comparatives, I'd like to toss up a couple more that have puzzled me for lo these many years. Who's better: Superman or Captain Marvel? Peter, Paul or Mary? You get the idea. Most debates of this kind are all about taste -- and hype. Which is better: chocolate or vanilla? At the same time, in any dialectical investigation of comparative athletic prowess there's one additional vital consideration that either levels the scales or obviates the entire discussion: function! For me, the question of Kobe versus T-Mac is artificial and even fatuous, simply because both players are required to perform vastly different functions with their respective teams.
|McGrady vs. Bryant: the debate rages on, but is it being analyzed correctly?|
Since 75 percent of the Lakers offense is initiated with an entry pass into Shaq (or the threat thereof), the big man is the deliverer and Kobe functions primarily as a receiver. Only in an open court, or with certain favorable matchups, and also with the shot clock running short, is Kobe encouraged to play one-on-one basketball and either create an open shot for himself or deliver a cunning pass to an unguarded teammate. Lacking a big man with exquisite post-up moves, the Orlando Magic are forced to play drive-and-kick basketball. Here, the ball is dribbled hoopwards, then passed out to a shooter when the defense collapses. In the Magic's scheme, McGrady's primary job is to flat-out score. Under duress, he becomes responsible for delivering the ball to his teammates. In the unlikely event that McGrady and Bryant ever switch teams, then their offensive responsibilities would likewise switch.
So forget about who has the quickest first step, who's longer, who's the better shooter -- because function supercedes talent. In truth, comparing Bryant and McGrady on an absolute level is like comparing apples and oranges. If a comparison is what you are looking for, better to isolate each player and evaluate how well he fulfills the demands of his team.
|McGrady usually can't be stopped on offense, but admits his defense is far from perfect.|
|McGrady leads the NBA in scoring and has topped 40 points three times this season.|
Though he wouldn't be playing against the Knicks, McGrady showed up for the player introductions in his game sweats, and then took a seat on the bench. Say what? Turned out that the young man anticipated that he'd be playing and came to the Garden wearing blue jeans. When the team doctor evaluated the ankle injury and said nix, McGrady was too embarrassed to sit on the bench wearing down-home duds, so he climbed into his uniform. Even without their (and the league's) high scorer, the Magic beat the hapless Knicks, 98-97. I caught up with McGrady after the game and was surprised once again. Of course, I've seen the kid on TV numerous times, and his oncourt body language suggested that here was another self-congratulating dunk-o-maniac, just one more run-of-the-mill NBA bonehead. That's why I was delighted by McGrady's soft and humble manner. Forget his post-dunk yowlings, and his smug superstar smiles ... it's all a ruse to disguise the fact that T-Mac's really just a small-town kid at heart. So what does McGrady think about the critiques of his defense? "I know that I have to get better," he says. "I think I'm OK guarding somebody straight-up, but I'm too slow recognizing when I have to rotate to the ball. In this league, it's very easy to get embarrassed out there if your defense is lame. Hey, I know, because I've been on both ends of the deal. But I'm starting to take pride in my defense and I'm working hard to improve it. Someday, I hope I'll be good enough to make the all-defensive team." OK, but what about the Tracy vs. Kobe controversy? Is it just a media-inspired frenzy, or does it really mean something to the players involved? According to Horace Grant, who played with Kobe in 2000-01, and knows the full intricacies of the triangle offense, "Kobe is totally into proving that he's better than Tracy. Last week, when the Lakers came to Orlando, Kobe was breaking plays left and right, just forcing shot after shot, trying to outscore Tracy." And McGrady? "Well," he says, "to tell you the truth, as late as last season, I did get caught up in trying to prove that I was better than Kobe. But not any more. It's a huge compliment that people even consider me to be one of the best players in the league. But I've learned to focus on winning." OK, OK & but, besides Shaq, who is the NBA's premier player? "There's no question about it," says McGrady. "It's Kobe and he's got three rings to prove it." In other words, the ultimate function is to win championships. Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."