One of the great aspects of sports is that it leads to debates about a player’s historical standing within the game. In the NBA, you won’t find a more divisive figure in these conversations than Kobe Bryant.
When it comes to Bryant, followers of the NBA seem to either love or hate him, with not many in the neutral camp. He tends to illicit these emotional responses due to his combative, unapologetic nature on and off the court. His significant involvement in helping break up the dynastic Lakers of the early aughts is still a point of contention for some fans. Him standing trial for rape also didn’t help matters, even though he was acquitted.
There are of course those that support Bryant unconditionally, no matter what. His aesthetically pleasing game, propensity for making ridiculously tough, contested shots, championship rings, along with his near-mythic work ethic and competitive fire induce the fiery passion, in which his fans defend him. The pro-Bryant crowd can make Tim Tebow’s cult followers seem sane in comparison.
My least favorite ingredient to these arguments is the tendency to apply the “Rings!” count. For quite a few people, Bryant’s five rings put him above other players who are statistically more dominant, which is just silly. Without a doubt, performance in the playoffs should be a part of the evaluation, but it is just plain stupid when comparing how many championships one has, as the end all, be all of these debates. This is a team sport after all, with a competent supporting cast, and luck heavily involved in a star player’s title accumulation.
No question, Bryant is one of the greatest players in NBA history, however, the growing perception of him being one of the top 10 players of all time is flagrant. Not that he is that far off; I’d say he belongs somewhere in the range of the 11th to 15th best player in NBA annals.
In choosing the the players that are historically greater than Bryant, the majority would be centers/power forwards. In no particular order: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan are all clearly better. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, the Holy Trinity of basketball, are a class above. Lebron James is already far greater than Bryant ever was, and could one day find himself on the very short list of greatest of all time. These 10 players are all significantly better than Bryant.
A case could be made for Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kevin Garnett, and David Robinson as well. This is not to disparage the great Bryant, but just putting his actual on-court dominance in perspective compared to other legends. There is absolutely nothing shameful about being selected behind these greats.
When the day comes for Bryant to retire, he will deservedly receive much acclaim from the basketball world. Let’s just remember that the perception of Bryant’s dominance is far greater than his actual on court accomplishments.
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