There is no denying Kobe Bryant is truly one of the “all-time greats” in NBA history. Off the heels of Michael Jordan and his universally accepted GOATness, came a virtual spitting image– in mannerisms, body type, style of play, work ethic, determination, and talent. It’s been a common sentiment, mostly unchallenged, Kobe Bryant took the torch from Jordan, and was the “greatest player” of his respective era. But as the Mamba walks away from the game, more resemblant of a harmless gardner snake (on a historically bad team), than a venomous killer (on a contender), it forces those of us being fair and critical, to reexamine this sentiment, and reflect upon the entire landscape.
In contrast, Tim Duncan, his often watching-paint-dry on court personality/style, and his slow, drab, generally boring, but awesome team, has never been a sexy basketball topic. The Big Fundamental never lead the league in jersey sales, nor All-Star voting. Though well respected and generally liked as a person, it’s rarely been in-fashion to praise TD for what he truly is– the greatest player of his/their era.
Sure, Kobe was undoubtedly the more explosive and individually threatening player in his prime, scoring more points, claiming more international fame. But that has more to do with talent, and superficial metrics, than “greatness.” So what is greatness? To me, greatness in sports, must transcend individual highs, also account for the lows, and ultimately take in to consideration all that was done, from beginning-to-end… Not equally weighing the valley’s with the peak’s, but also not discounting them.
Outside of each of their primes, you have to look at how both players began, and are now ending their careers, to assess the true overall success of their respective bodies of work.
Kobe came into the league a spry teenager, expectedly flawed as any teen would be, but also an instantaneous ball and glory hog, eager for the spotlight, and as many shot attempts as he could find, regardless of the game situation. It took three full seasons for Kobe to find his comfort level in the NBA, which is understandable for such a young man, in a man’s man game. Yet his natural instincts and desire to shoot at all costs, lasted all the way through his very last seasons. It must be considered, that Mr. Bryant led the Lakers in shot attempts per game, while also shooting the lowest shot % in the entire NBA (amongst qualified shooters), two years in a row. That stat is incredibly dubious and has never even been close to having been previously achieved by any player, let alone one of the “all-time greats.” And his very last game? The dude took 50 shot attempts in his grand finale, praised by many, mocked by more as distasteful but fitting.
Duncan however, a four-year college grad, came into the NBA older with a more mature approach to the game, being drafted #1 overall and winning the Rookie of the Year award. Which can be attributed to his longer amateur seasoning, but also his personal motives. Nothing about the bank shot baller has every come across as arrogant, self serving, or detrimental to his team. While Kobe was saying he was “all about rings,” yet being paid the highest salary in the NBA, to play mediocre at best ball, Duncan was taking pay cuts, more in line with his actual current production levels, rather than his career achievements, in hopes to help his teams roster strength (actions to win rings, not words). And what are the results of each franchise players teams as they play(ed) out their twilights? This season, the Spurs broke their franchise record for team wins, tied the best single season home record in the NBA (40-1), and are a legit contender to challenge the record breaking defending Champion Warriors. While the storied Lakers franchise, had it’s worst season in franchise history (17-65).
Let’s get more simplistic with this comparative overview though…
– Both Kobe and Duncan have five Championships, Kobe is now retired, while Duncan is still on a team that could win more rings.
– The Spurs have NEVER missed in the playoffs in Duncan’s entire career. The Lakers have missed the playoffs four times in Kobe’s tenure.
– Tim Duncan has two MVP awards. Kobe Bryant has one MVP award.
– Tim Duncan has three Finals MVP’s. Kobe Bryant has two Finals MVP’s.
– Tim Duncan was the Rookie of the Year. Kobe Bryant was not in the conversation for ROY.
– Tim Duncan is a 15 time NBA All-Defensive Team selection. Kobe Bryant is a 12 time NBA All-Defensive Team selection.
– Tim Duncan has 15 All NBA selections. Kobe Bryant also has 15 All NBA selections.
– Tim Duncan won Championships in three different decades (90’s, 00’s, 10’s). Kobe Bryant won Championships in two different decades (00’s, 10’s).
– Tim Duncan is commonly accepted at the all-time greatest at his respective position (PF) and the greatest player of his franchises history. Kobe Bryant is commonly accepted as the second best at his respective position (SG) and is in the debate for the greatest player in his franchise history.
– While Kobe skipped college (not as a discredit), it must also be acknowledged Duncan was the National Player of the Year and the Wooden Award winner in his final collegiate season (1997).
For those willing to really look at the case for the “greatest player of the era,” rather than make an assumption– The proof is in the pudding. Duncan has been playing Champion basketball from day one, and is going out, still in the hunt. The resume’s speak for themselves, albeit unpopular opinion, Tim Duncan is the greatest player of his era.