In the Klutch of Kontroversy: Kobe Bryant, Part 2

Posted: June 21, 2010 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NBA
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The man in the mirror continues to move towards his desired reflection. This is part two of a two-part series on Kobe Bryant and the 2010 NBA Finals, his role in the game now, Michael Jordan comparisons and NBA history.

Living for what you aren’t over what you are is counterproductive. So is viewing the world in such a way as well. It’s the debate of the times amongst basketball fans, __________ is better than Kobe. Or Kobe is good, but he’ll never be as good as ___________. These are opinions (and maybe excuses to not like him), but I think they are taking away from the ability to appreciate him for what he’s done and what else he still could do.

5 Times the Champ, Kobe still comes up short for many. Why?

The opinions of Kobe’s place in the game now and his place in history are spread out across the entire scope of the game. Some consider him to be the best in the game now; some give that title to LeBron. Some say he is the most successful player of his era, others say he won as a by-product of being coupled with Shaq and Phil Jackson the first time around. Some even say he is the best to have ever done it, period. Obviously, there are more other “opinions” on that. In any scenario, I can’t think of any player who is more debated while losing and gaining more of his place in history all at once.

For me, Kobe’s place in history is changing, yet is clear. He is one of the most talented players in the history of the game. Without a doubt, he is one of the greatest shooting guards to ever play and most consistent winners in NBA history. Why isn’t that good enough? Why must he be so much more? For the other players in these categories, they are not universally hated. Tim Duncan: great winner, but not hated. Allen Iverson: tremendous scorer, still not hated. Dwyane Wade: outstanding combo of exciting scorer and winner, but no hate.

First of all, let’s lay it out there. Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. Jordan is not only the greatest player in NBA history, but he is arguably the greatest player in pro sports history. He was the perfect storm of statistical dominance and unrelenting success at the highest summits of his sport. For career comparison:

Michael Jordan: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG. 5 time MVP, 10 All-NBA & 9 All-Defensive teams

6-0 Finals appearances, 6 Finals MVP, 33.4 Playoff PPG

Kobe Bryant: 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.5 SPG. 1 time MVP, 8 All-NBA & 8 All-Defensive teams

5-2 Finals appearances, 2 Finals MVP, 26.1 Playoff PPG


King and the Prince to be? Jordan is still in his own class.

This is not Kobe’s fault, that’s a hell of an act to follow so shortly after Michael has left. It’s not like comparing a contemporary baseball player to Babe Ruth, because there is no fresh memory of Ruth. His impact is legend that has been known forever. Kobe and Mike actually shared the same court, albeit on totally different end of their careers. They are strikingly similar in approach, but he is not greater than Jordan. It is fair however to say he is the closest to emulating Jordan’s game and success since him.

For many, Kobe is judged as the 2nd greatest player (overall) of all time. This is also inaccurate. For all of his greatness Kobe isn’t the greatest player in the history of his franchise yet. That honor goes to Earvin Johnson. Jerry West or

Shoulders above: Who's the true King of LA?

 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may still rank above. In the history of the NBA perspective, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell stand chief amongst others who outrank Bryant in achievements at this point of his career. Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Tim Duncan are within his contemporaries in NBA history. The numbers stand up, but give credence to Bryant being amongst the NBA elite historically. 

Larry Bird: 24.3 PPG, 10 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG; 3-2 in Finals, 3-Time MVP

Magic Johnson: 19.5 PPG, 11.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 SPG; 5-5 NBA Finals, 3 Time MVP

Bill Russell: 15.1 PPG, 22.1 RPG, 4.3 APG, (blocks not kept yet); 11-0 NBA Finals, 5 Time MVP

Wilt Chamberlain: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG (block not kept yet); 2-0 NBA Finals, 4 Time MVP

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 3.6 APG; 6-4 NBA Finals, 6 Time MVP

This isn’t designed to detract from Kobe, but it shows a realistic spot on what he has done. A few others have claim for superior rank as well (West, Robertson chiefly) for where he’s at in the decline prime of his career, he deserves top 10 mentions in the history of the NBA.

Like Brady and Manning, the view of NBA top dog is based on what you're looking for.

The LeBron James debate is more interesting to me. LeBron James entered the league with huge hype, which leads some to be turned off of him. He is the most incomparable player in NBA history, as he is such a unique talent with the potential/expectations that come with it. He also entered at a time when Bryant was top dog and literally incomparable in the NBA. The main contention for James being lesser than Bryant is his lack of championships, which is a matter of how you measure the greatness of a player. Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Iverson are all great players that didn’t win. And LeBron is halfway to where Kobe is in his career (time wise), minus playing with either a tremendous Hall of Famer in his prime or the greatest coach ever. These factors make a huge impact on his early success. I’m not sure who’s better but I’ll provide the comparison for Kobe at 25 versus LeBron at this point for pure head up showing. With both coming from high school directly, it holds weight. 


LeBron at 25: 27.8 PPG, 7 RPG, 7 APG, 1.7 SPG; 2-time MVP, 4 time All-NBA; 0-1 Finals

Kobe at 25: 21.7 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 SPG; 0 MVP; 3 time All-NBA; 3-1 NBA Finals

Kobe’s career started off much slower, as he didn’t average 20 points until his fourth year. But he did play a huge role on a Laker team that completed a three-peat at 22-24 years old. As James reached the Finals once, losing to the Spurs in his 4th season, Kobe won his first championship his 4th season. However, James early accomplishments in the league are unrivaled at his age. It’s a split on the two measures of greatness judgment in my assessment. I feel it will be easier to judge James’ accomplishments against Bryant’s by the time he reaches 30 years old as well.

For Kobe, the detraction is based in something more. He has not been scandal free and unlike many other figures, his have been very public. His on and off court rivalry with Shaq, his sexual affair and subsequent marital fallout, the perceived rivalry with his own teammates, probably all contribute to his lack of universal appeal. He is not unique in this (see Jordan, Michael), but in his position it is amplified more as the standard setter for professional basketball players of his era.

Bryant almost cannot be spoken of without a parallel being drawn. He will always be discussed as easily by himself as he is with Shaq, Jordan, LeBron or Phil. The bottom line is that Bryant is a transcendent player that when the late 90’s and 2000’s are mentioned, will always be synonymous with the era. To negate that fact due to saying who he wasn’t is to cheat him of what he is: the defining player of the decade. It doesn’t have to be liked or approved of, but it’s true and should be acknowledged if not respected.

  1. Nuno Barreto says:

    Very good article!
    I think the problem with discussions such as this will always be the fact that the players didn’t match up against each other, or even that some fans weren’t even alive when one of the players was active!

    How can I say that Kobe is better that Russel or Chamberlain all I have seen were bits of footage.

    Plus it’s impossible to experience the hype surrounding those players like we are experiencing right now with players like Kobe and LeBron!

    My humble opinion 🙂

    • First of all, thanks for the read.

      It’s very hard to declare who ranks where usually, especially in different eras and focuses of the game. For me Jordan is unparalleled and his contemporaries and successors consider him to be the greatest, and he played in a strong era of basketball. Like you say, hype changes so many things now and it’s hard to break it down to the core of the player and his accomplishments, without some media influenced bias. However, it is clear that Bryant’s greatness gets fought against and defended more than any other player I can recall in my 27 years of life so far.

  2. T. Kee says:

    The one thing missing from the argument are the intangibles of each of these great players. It is not enough to just look at the numbers to debate what type of player someone it is. It will always come down to how they play the game.

    For example, you pointed out that Lebron had better numbers during the first seven but Kobe had more Killer instinct. When they asked Shaq about Kobe air balling two shots in a close out game as a rookie and in effect sending the Lakers fishing…Shaq responded by saying nobody else on the team wanted to take that shot! When I look at Lebron when he lost to the Celtics in his 7th season (this year) he did not want to take those shots or be the one to carry the team…he just did not have that it factor.

    Outside of that you have to look at toughness (on court), willingness to play hurt, willingness to play through adversity (rape case/teammate smashing your moms), and several other mental factors.

  3. Oates says:

    I think I cosign to just about every opinion on here about Kobe. You know I’m a Kobe Stan but I’m also a MJ Stan too! At this currernt time (and barring some Bondsian late career rampage) MJ is better than Kobe. You cant really argue that.

    I do however believe that Kobe is easily a top 10 player of all-time & on I would rank him above Kareem Abdul Jabbar & tied w/ Magic to be honest.

    I agree that LBJ is easily the most talented basketball player in the history of the NBA. No player has any of his physical gifts & could put it all together on the court. Now, I dont believe he’s the basketball player in the NBA & quite frankly I’m not sure if he will end his career in the top 25. I see him more as Pippen than Jordan honestly. He has incredible talent but just dont think he has the ability to drag a team to the top (with that being said Pippen did have a mean streak & a will to win greater than LBJ’s too). I am willing to bet that @ the end of this FA period LBJ will be playing a flashy Pippen to someone else’s Jordan.

    I also dont understand the undying hate of Kobe. I have yet to hear one valid excuse to hate him but to love MJ @ the same time, not 1. I almost think Kobe has crafted it that way! He copies everything MJ does. I think he honestly studies tapes on Jordan’s mannerisms & all!

    Good article.

    • Nuno Barreto says:

      I think you are undermining LBJ by comparing him to Pippen!
      I think is problem is his team he as never been accompanied by a Pippen, or a Pau, or a Shaq(You know what I mean)!
      If he goes to Chigaco be afraid be very afraid…

  4. Samuel says:

    Good read. I don’t know if I can say confidently where Kobe ranks among the all time great right now.

    When you compare career numbers though Kobe is always going to look less impressive because of the fact that his numbers from his first rookie year were so low and he didn’t even start until his 3rd year, and when he did start he had to share the ball the with the most dominant big man in the game. His situation was ideal for winning championships, not putting up numbers.

    That being said I would take Kobe up against any two guard that ever played and he is definitely the greatest Laker that ever played. I love Magic and we all do, but for as talented as he was Kobe is a better shooter, scorer, defender, and equally as clutch. I do believe Magic was the better passer though….Is he better than Jordan maybe, but probably not, but he is definitely better than any other Laker at this point Kobe goes down as a top ten player of all time. I don’t know how he can’t

  5. T. Kee says:

    The reason for the comparison of LBJ and Pippen is obvious. They are both point forwards. Pippen is a better defender and Lebron is the better passer but when you look at Pippen’s years in 94 his numbers where similar to lebron. He led his team in ppg rebs and asts. In other words he needs a D. Wade or someone with a Killer mentality to be his Jordan.

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