"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
Jordan once said in the famous, "Maybe it's my fault" Nike commercial, "Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a god-given gift and not something I worked for every single day of my life." Michael Jordan was more than just an amazing basketball player, he had an amazing work ethic. He was naturally talented, but instead of just coasting by and being a good player, he put in the work, every day, every night and became the best. He made basketball his entire life, focused every day on how to be better than the previous. There's more to practicing than what takes place on the court. While everybody else went home, he stayed in game mode. He didn't take breaks. That's drive. Unlike Lebron, Kobe shares that drive.
Kobe grew up watching Jordan, idolizing him to such a degree that he not only tries to match him, but beat him in everything. Kobe adapts Jordan's work ethic because he wants to be the best. It's a type of hero worship that almost defies logic - instead of adoring his hero, he needed to surpass him, as if that were the only way to prove to Jordan that he was any good, that he warranted any respect. Jordan is a father figure to Kobe, and he needs to make him proud. A great player like Michael Jordan, a savant in his own right, could only respect a person who surpassed him...
And then came Lebron.
At the moment, Lebron is arguably a more talented player than Kobe and possibly better now than Kobe in his prime. But Lebron will never be as great as Kobe because he doesn't have the mental will power that Kobe and Jordan have. He does not cultivate his talent in the same way. Lebron on Kobe -- Kobe wins.
Lebron isn't motivated by being the best, or working the hardest to be the best. He has tremendous talent but wastes it by not putting full effort. Lebron fights for the ring because that is what he is taught to want, what others expect from him; for Kobe and Jordan, it is what they expect for themselves. Lebron feels people will ridicule him for the rest of his life if he doesn't win a championship and this has become his main motivation; rather than working for excellence, toward greatness which few can ever reach. He is mentally weaker and more fragile which is why he buckles under pressure in the fourth quarter of games, why his clutch free throws rattle out, and why he passes the ball instead of taking the last shot. That's Lebron.
Kobe, on the other hand, is mentally superior to Lebron. His competitive attitude is one of the greatest of all time. "The mental part is the hardest part and I think that's the part that separates good players from the great players." Kobe's mantra, his every day focus, is what will always make him greater than Lebron. Kobe has learned, just as Michael had, not to fear failure.
Lebron fears failure.
Lebron fears he will fail, fears that he won't be as amazing as MJ and Kobe, and thus fulfills his self-fulfilling prophecy.
Of the three, Lebron may very well be the most talented player, certainly the most physically gifted, followed by Jordan and Kobe. Kobe's talent may not mach Jordan's, but one way he found he could reach his idol's level of greatness is by being even better mentally in the game. He forces himself to be more patient, smarter, and better studied than his competitors, which elevates Kobe to Michael's status. Lebron has the potential to be the best basketball player of all time. But his inferior drive is his downfall.
Part of this is because Lebron does not share the same idol worship that Kobe had for Michael. Kobe acknowledges his drive is motivated by Jordan but disagrees it is the same: "My competitiveness is different [from Michael's]…and most of the things I've learned have come from him and that within itself has a different level of respect than somebody else."
Jordan's drive, however, came from needing to prove he was a success to his parents and his family who saw him as the least likely to succeed. When talking about his family he explains how "In their wildest dreams, they never thought I'd be a professional athlete."
Michael's competitive drive comes from a different place than Kobe's, but the effect is the same: greatness. Michael is in constant pursuit of new challenges, displaying an air of arrogance in believing he could master most challenges like he did in basketball. His failed success in baseball is only further proof of his uncompromising drive. He gave up a sport while in his prime, as if it had become too easy, so he looked for a new challenge.
Even though he failed at baseball, not one other player, or individual for that matter, can say they did what Jordan did.
Kobe's drive doesn't manifest the same way. He will not stop playing basketball until they wheel him off the court, until he has squeezed every last ounce of juice from his body. He must prove not only to Jordan that he is the best, but to himself. Even if he cannot match the physical talent as Jordan or Lebron, he can put his entire focus on his longevity to outwill the two competitors. Whereas Lebron may very well retire at the first signs of his decline so that he prevents any ridicule to his person or name, Kobe's pride pushes him to get every last point, every last win.
In other words:
Kobe Bryant is if Rudy were born with a great deal of talent. Lebron lacks that first in, last out mentality that made Jordan and Kobe superstars. He might be able to win championships in the future coasting on his talent, but he will never maximize his potential the way that Kobe and Jordan have.