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Ignore Who's Better Debates and Enjoy NBA Playoffs

Another one of those unwinnable arguments. Another incessant and illogical need to compare. Another question that can’t be answered but has some people lined up determined to try.

Is LeBron better than Kobe?

Then again, is Kobe better than Michael? Or Michael better than Magic or Larry? Or, even though he played a different game in a different era, is Bill Russell on the strength of his championships, better than anyone?

I’m going to appreciate every one of them. They were special, they are special. And just because ESPN or some other publication asks for a vote on who’s No. 1 we don’t have to be lulled into the trap and provide a response.

Now, if you ask if LeBron James was fantastic Thursday night, that’s different. Or if Kobe has been fantastic game after game. Or if Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have shown they are among the elite, well there’s no argument.

Basketball is the ultimate team game, so we dare not forget the other characters in the dramas, Pau Gasol, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, people far more than role players.

We’re getting everything we could wish, a post-season that – and yes, breaking my own rule of rejecting comparisons – could be the best ever.

From the Bulls-Celtics series, that had it been the NBA finals and not simply a first-rounder still would have us talking and reflecting, the excitement has come sweeping at us in endless waves. What next?

Take it from someone, me, who has been there, someone who started watching the NBA when Jerry West, “The Logo,’’ was a rookie, 1960, it doesn’t get any better than it has been.

Even Magic-Bird. Even Rick Barry-Elvin Hayes. Even when in 1976 Gar Heard threw in that miracle for the Suns and forced the Celtics to go to triple overtime.

I was down on the NBA for a few years. The play didn’t meet the hype. The game was too programmed, too restricted, great athletes figuratively tethered by coaches who would rather have a wrestling match than a ballet.

But what’s out there now – what we’re witnessing, to expand on the theme of LeBron and Cavaliers – is compelling theater, must-see theater. The wow factor has taken control. And isn’t that what counts?

If you’re a Lakers fan, a Cavs fan, or a fan of the other two teams still playing as May heads into June, it’s results which matter. For the rest of us, it’s method.

To watch LeBron hit that 3-pointer with time running out in Game 2, to watch the Magic hold off the Cavs with Tiger Woods in the building, to watch Denver attempt the virtually impossible scheme of keeping Kobe Bryant from getting off his jumper, is what sport is all about.

We don’t need Charles Barkley or Kenny Smith to tell us how great these games and players have been. We know. And we’re enthralled. How do the Cavs blow a 22-point lead and still win by 10? How does LeBron keep on running and jumping, shooting and passing?

It’s all worked out perfectly for the two networks, ESPN and TNT, one evening Lakers-Nuggets, the next Cavs-Magic, guaranteed excitement every 24 hours.

It’s all worked out perfectly for us, the sporting public who can’t wait for the next tipoff.

In his famed dictionary of 1755, Samuel Johnson, the Englishman, called sport “tumultuous merriment.’’ A brilliant definition, and surely the last few weeks the NBA playoffs have left us tumultuously merry.

Technical fouls have been called and then rescinded. Mark Cuban, unfortunately, belittled Denver’s Kenyon Martin via e-mail. In L.A., Jack Nicholson from his $2,500 seat, has cheered the Lakers but given the high sign now and then to their opponents.

The NFL is No. 1 in America, a fact well recognized when this week Sports Illustrated put Tom Brady on its cover. And baseball has history on its side, carrying back to the 19th Century. But basketball has found its place, on the tube, in our hearts.

If the play has been a trifle erratic, if it’s hard to figure why the Lakers look so good at home and so bewildering away, that’s only contributed to the excitement. Teams coming unglued. Teams coming back.

We were promised entertainment, and the playoffs have lived up to the promise. Is LeBron better than Kobe? Who cares, as long as they and Carmelo and Dwight are making us gasp and hope these games never end.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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