The two greatest players over the past decade and a half have been Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The Lakers shooting guard was an immense competitor who left all his heart and soul for the game, dominating it with his scoring ability and killer instinct. LeBron James has steadily remained the greatest all-around player that we have ever seen. LeBron’s ability to carry teams on his back is the stuff of legends, and it has been a joy to watch.
Due to the greatness of both of these players, their careers have been compared and analyzed to this day. Kobe won 5 rings with the Lakers while LeBron won 4 total rings as a member of the Lakers, Heat, and Cavaliers. But which player had better teammates? Kobe Bryant once played with Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most dominant players ever, while LeBron James has had an assortment of Hall of Fame talent on his rosters throughout his career.
To compare LeBron and Kobe’s teammates, here is how their teammates compare in an all-time starting five.
Nick Van Exel vs. Kyrie Irving
With this comparison, Kyrie Irving stands out as the far better player. This is no knock on Van Exel, who is one of the most offensively talented little guards in modern history. Van Exel was known as a strong shooter, dribbler, and could create his own shots when needed. He is certainly the best point guard Kobe Bryant ever played with, with an honorable exception to Derek Fisher who hit many big shots as a member of Kobe’s Lakers.
But Kyrie Irving was on a different level. He is a legitimate superstar player when he has his rhythm going because he can drain outside shots and also get to the rim. He is the greatest dribbler of all time, surpassing the likes of Allen Iverson and Jamal Crawford. Irving’s scoring average is much higher and he was a far more impactful player who helped LeBron win a ring in 2016.
Advantage: Kyrie Irving
Eddie Jones vs. Dwyane Wade
As far as starting shooting guards go, Eddie Jones and Dwyane Wade are excellent options. Jones was a very effective defender and scorer in his prime and was actually the starter for the Lakers during Kobe’s first 2 years in the league. Dwyane Wade was a bonafide superstar throughout his career and was a massive factor for LeBron James winning his first NBA championships.
Once again, LeBron James has the advantage in this position. Dwyane Wade is by far the greater player than Eddie Jones as a scorer and even a defender. Wade is arguably the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and a massive presence as a lockdown defender. He was quicker than Jones and more active at poking away balls and playing passing lanes.
Advantage: Dwyane Wade
Lamar Odom vs. Ray Allen
This one would be a major advantage to LeBron James if we look at the totality of both Odom’s and Allen’s careers, but Odom was a better player than Allen at the time each played with Kobe and James respectively. Odom was in his prime with the Lakers when Kobe won 2 NBA championships, and his excellent all-around play meant he was one of the best 6th men in the league. Odom could score, defend, pass, and rebound without ever playing out of the Lakers system.
Ray Allen was a massive contributor to LeBron and the Miami Heat, mainly thanks to his floor spacing and clutch shot-making. Ray Allen’s Game 6 shot for Miami was bigger than any single play Odom made for the Lakers, but Odom was a better and more consistent player for the Lakers. Odom gets a slight advantage due to the fact that Ray Allen was past his prime when he played with LeBron.
Advantage: Lamar Odom
Pau Gasol vs. Anthony Davis
This one is close. Pau Gasol was the undisputed 2nd option for the Lakers team that went back to back in 2009 and 2010. There is no way that the Lakers win those titles without the arrival of the talented Spaniard because Gasol’s scoring and defensive presence in the post were invaluable. Gasol was one of the best power forwards in the NBA for a long time, and he was the perfect sidekick for Kobe Bryant.
On the other hand, Anthony Davis is currently one of the top five players in the world and his partnership with LeBron James was far too good for any opponent to handle. Their size, skills, and overall impact on the game led the Lakers to the championship in 2020 with more likely to come. As good as Pau Gasol was, and he should be a Hall of Famer, he was never one of the top five players in the game, and that alone gives the edge to Anthony Davis.
Advantage: Anthony Davis
Shaquille O’Neal vs. Chris Bosh
Without a doubt, Shaquille O’Neal is the greatest teammate Kobe Bryant ever had and also better than any center LeBron ever played with. Chris Bosh started at center for the Miami Heat on most occasions and he was the most talented big man that LeBron ever played with. But he does not compare to Shaquille O’Neal on any level, as Shaq is one of the ten greatest players ever and arguably the most dominant big man in NBA history.
Shaquille O’Neal was the Finals MVP for the Lakers team that 3-peated and his impact on both ends of the floor were legendary. Shaq and Kobe might be the greatest duo in NBA history, something that LeBron and Bosh aren’t. Chris Bosh is a talented scorer who can score from mid-range and beyond, but he is nowhere near as good as Shaq, and Kobe was very lucky to have a big man like him by his side.
Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal
Overall, both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played with Hall of Fame talent. Kobe Bryant had the best single teammate in Shaquille O’Neal, but LeBron James played with more Hall of Famers and All-Stars beside him than Kobe did. LeBron’s style of play meant that he attracted All-Stars to play with him, and he didn’t mind sharing the spotlight with other stars (although the spotlight still always dropped on The King).
Kobe Bryant’s selfishness as a scorer and killer-will meant that he needed secondary stars next to him to “go along for the ride”, which is why the Shaq-Kobe experiment didn’t last as long as it should have. If it did, Kobe Bryant might have a couple more than 5 rings to his name. Overall, LeBron James seemed to have played with a larger amount of stars and had more help over his career although Kobe had the best single teammate that helped him win 3 NBA titles.