- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown has barely coached Kobe Bryant for five weeks since the start of training camp after starting his career coaching LeBron James for five years in Cleveland, but he already knows enough about the pair to compare and contrast the two.
"They're both competitive," Brown said before the Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 90-87 in overtime on Wednesday. "They both want to win. There's just a different feel to the two guys. It's hard for me to put into words."
Despite the fact that Bryant, 33, is a 16-year veteran with five championships under his belt and James, 27, is in his ninth season and ringless in two Finals appearances, the two are irrevocably linked.
James and Bryant have combined to win three of the last four MVP trophies, were teammates and key members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Beijing, have been the dual stars of a Nike advertising campaign featuring puppet versions of themselves and are currently the NBA's top two leading scorers, with James averaging 29.7 points and Bryant averaging 29.5 points per game coming into Wednesday's games.
"They're both obviously guys that know how to perform at a high level," Brown said. "Their games are different. On both ends of the floor they're very different, but especially offensively. LeBron is a guy that's still learning and still growing and the reality of it is, being down there with Dwyane Wade is helping him and every year, every game he's getting better."
Along with his league-leading scoring average, James is averaging a career-high 8.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals while also shooting a career-best 59.3 percent from the field this season as Miami has jumped out an 8-2 start.
Bryant scored an NBA league-high 48 points on Tuesday against the Suns and is averaging 5.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists (both above his career averages) while playing with a torn ligament in his right (shooting) wrist.
Bryant has been asked to compare Brown to former coach Phil Jackson on several occasions already this season and has said repeatedly that there are "different ways to skin a cat," while describing Brown's intense defense as unique a coaching signature as Jackson's triangle offense.
Brown said James and Bryant differ most when it comes to demeanor.
"They're different," Brown said. "Different personalities. LeBron, he's a guy that likes to laugh and joke and he knows, obviously, when there's a time to be serious but he's youthful. I guess that's probably the word. Whereas Kobe is not as much. Kobe is more serious-minded and so-on and so-forth. But Kobe knows how to have fun in his own way, too."
A reporter asked if Bryant's and James' differences were based on their disparate ages and the fact that they came into the league during different eras -- for example, it was a rarity when players went right from high school to the NBA when Bryant was drafted in 1996, but had become commonplace by the time James was selected in 2003.
"I don't know if the era has anything to do with it," Brown said. "I think it's just personalities more than anything else."
Brown, Bryant and the Lakers play James and the Heat in Miami next Thursday and again in Los Angeles on March 4.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne