Kobe Bryant, How great art thou?
This is probably a question that a lot of us ask plenty of the time. It’s a well debated subject in many NBA circles, as it should be. Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest guards of all time, as Michael Jordan has said before. Easily top 10, probably number 2 or 3 depending on who you ask. The bigger question, and probably the biggest question about Kobe’s career, would be is he considered a top 10 player of all time? Even top 5?
We constantly break down Kobe’s career; from the biggest accomplishment to the smallest nuance of his game. Then we try to compare him to the all time greatest players of the history of the game. I’m talking players like Magic, Larry, Mike, Kareem, Dr.J, Hondo, Tim Duncan, Wilt, Pistol Pete, and even Shaq. No, those aren’t my top players in that exact order, but they were all time greats. They still are all time greats to this day. Kobe’s resume would lead us to believe that he should be in the top, but should we begin to chisel his face in the Mount Rushmore of Hoops?
On that mountain, as of right now, I have Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar; Michael is number one, then you can shuffle the next 3 around. Those are the ultimate players in the game to me. The factors that go into my “Mount Rushmore” are the amount of work and time they put into the game, the longevity of their careers, the way they played the game giving it their all, and the era that they played in.
Notice that they all played in what we’d like to call the Golden Era of Basketball. From about 1975 to about 1998 was the time when the NBA was on top. We had the Light Show Lakers as I like to call them, we had Larry’s Celtics who he willed to victory all the time, and we had the ultimate winning team in Jordan’s Bulls.
The thing about it though, is that those teams were pushed to the limit by plenty of others in the NBA. Larry and Magic had their battles over the years, you had Dr. J’s 76ers back then too. Jordan had to get through Magic, Larry, and Isiah and his Bad Boys down in Detroit. You also had the Seattle Sonics and Gary “The Glove” Payton. That was one of my favorite all time teams. Baby Kemp, Gary Payton, Hersey Hawkins, and even Sam Perkins giving good minutes. There was plenty of talent to go around. KJ and Barkley’s Suns, The Admiral’s Spurs (That would eventually become Tim Duncan’s Spurs), Hakeem’s Rockets. Even back in Larry’s early days you had Walton and the Blazers, Jack Sikma and DJ on the Sonics, Rick Barry’s Warriors, and even Wes Unseld and my Bullets!
(That Bullet reference felt very good by the way)
The talent pool of the players of the last decade hasn’t been that deep. The Lakers were pushed by the Piston’s, where the best player was Chauncey Billups. Tim Duncan and the Spurs, Chris Webber and the Kings, AI and the 76ers, but that was about it; Nothing to really threaten the duo of Kobe and Shaq.
There was plenty of talent to go around during the Golden Age. Players were coming out of the woodwork it seemed like and the talent wasn’t stopping. The rules that they played with versus the players that they played against make Mike, Larry, Magic, and Kareem the best players ever in my opinion; again, Michael would have to be number one, then you can possibly shuffle around the next 3. But does Kobe deserve to be the 5th name on that top 5 list?
Even if you disagree with my top 5 of all time, I’m sure that you could probably find some players who are still great and have great resume’s to put there. Does Bryant actually belong though?
He is a great player statistically and is climbing on the all time scoring list. He is 8th on the career list with 27868 points amassed and he’s still counting. He probably has Kareem’s record in his sights, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get there. That’s another argument for another day. Being in the top 10 on that list is definitely an accomplishment of a top 20 player in the NBA, but scoring isn’t all that gets you there. Being a great teammate and pushing your team to greater heights also lands you in the top 10, and I’m not sure Kobe has done that for his whole career.
During the 3 peat with Phil, Kobe wasn’t even the alpha male on that team. That was Shaq’s team and everyone knew it. Sure, it was constantly debated over sometime, but we all know that Kobe wasn’t as dominant of a force without Shaq being down low. No one can do it alone, I know, but being the 2nd best player on a team isn’t really something that will make a case for you being a top 10 player.
Magic and Kareem were a 1a 1b case down in LA with Pat Riley. I think that’s mainly because of Magic being the ultimate teammate to those guys down there, but in either case that’s how it was. Kareem won one ring on his own, but Magic won at least 3 of those for him and then James Worthy won another one. They were hand in hand the perfect unit, the perfect team, for many years in the NBA; only pushed by their archrival Boston Celtics.
Kobe and Shaq was probably the total opposite. They clashed a lot but at the end of the day their talent and will to win overcame that. They both wanted to be number 1 but Shaq made his dominance known to everyone. Kobe didn’t like it. Kobe even clashed with Phil Jackson because of the simple fact that Kobe like to high jack the offense at times. It would cost his team the game sometimes, but what scorer doesn’t cost his team games? *cough* Jordan *cough*. Now we all know that no one can be Michael Jordan, but Kobe is the so called “closest thing to him”. For him to be the closest thing, he’s not really close at all.
Kobe isn’t better than Bird or Magic. His teams always needed elite talent to push him over the edge. No, this isn’t a shot at Kobe, but he hasn’t always been the best teammate. He high jacks the offense a lot of times, and is probably the perfect ball hog. Sometimes he turns into a black hole and takes away shots from his teammates. That’s how you can see 9 40 point games, also an 81 point game against the Raptors. It’s great that he was feeling it, but I don’t think that that’s the way the win was envisioned. Whatever breads your butter, though; you’ve got to do what it takes to win sometimes.
Jordan was similar, but when he did it, his shots seemed flawless. That’s what makes him the greatest player of all time. He could do it, and it seemed like his team was always winning. He was the ultimate winner. Even when he didn’t have a Robin to his Batman in Pippen he was a winner. He could make splashes in the playoffs on his own, not needing another all star to play with.
Bird and Magic were the players needed to carry their teams over the hump. They were also great teammates to their peers. They were probably some of the most loveable, easy to play with people in the league. They made that extra pass, they played that extra minute, they defended that shot every single time. They represented their teams greatly and were the number one guy on those teams. That’s something that Kobe can’t say for his whole career.
Late in his career, Kobe has seemed to turn a corner into greatness though. He’s smarter, he plays the game at a much slower, simpler pace. He’ll make that extra pass, he’ll pick up his teammates when they’re slumming, he’ll score when he has to. Whatever it takes to win, he’ll do as he always says. He’s a winner; there is no doubt about that at all. Kobe has 5 championships and he won 2 of them being the best player on his team. Larry only won 3; that’s a pretty close number.
The thing about Kobe is that I don’t know if he’s even the best player of our era. You’ve got players like Tim Duncan, Shaquielle O’neal, and maybe even Allen Iverson ahead of Kobe. I know Iverson didn’t win any rings, but some people can make the case he was better. I certainly won’t entertain that argument right now as I sit on this couch and write this, but who knows; maybe, just maybe, you will. But those guys have had great careers also; Shaq got Kobe 3 of his rings, Tim carried teams to rings on his own, and Iverson…well he was just Iverson. He changed the game for guards that were under 6 feet everywhere.
Another thing about all time greats is the MVP #s. Kobe Bryant only has one MVP in his name for his career. Allen Iverson, Shaq, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, and even Lebron James took the MVP trophies out of Bryant’s hands throughout the last decade. Magic has 3, Larry has 3, Michael has 5 and Kareem has 6. Kobe has one only. That says something about his dominance this decade. He really came on as somewhat of a late bloomer in a sense. The 2 finals MVPs make of for some of that, but again, my Mount Rushmore has a lot of Finals MVPs. That’s what makes you a dominant player. You’ve got to dominate your competition. Kobe didn’t do that as the lead man until late in his career.
The thing I love about Kobe is that he wants to prove people like me, and all other doubters that he’s ever had about him wrong. No, I don’t think Bryant is a top 10 player of all time, but he certainly is top 20; maybe even top 15, maybe even number 11. All I can tell you is that he isn’t on Mount Rushmore of the NBA, he is a winner, and he still has some years left in him.
Let’s see what you can do Kobe Bean Bryant. Prove me wrong, or just make me look right. Either way, I’ll enjoy watching the rest of your career. When you finally hang’em up, you’ll definitely have my respect as one of the greatest players I’ve ever watched. That’s more than enough for me.
Michael Sykes is a writer with the SportsBlogMovement. Follow us on twitter, just type in #sportsblogmovement, make us a trending topic! Also Michael Sykes is a proud contributor to uptownsportsmag.com. You can read this on that website also.