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Tuesday, 26 March 2013 07:33

Kobe Bryant: Exposing the Myths, Bad Arguments, & Other Fallacies That Define His Grossly Inflated Greatness

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Kobe Bryant Is Just Not as Good as They Say He Is  

They say Kobe Bryant has been the most scrutinized athlete of our time.  They say that no one has been put in under a bigger microscope than the starting shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.  No athlete, during this generation of technology and information, has ever been more polarizing than one Kobe Bryant.

And already, ‘they’ are wrong.  ‘They’ are embellishing once again.  Just for fun, here are some names: Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather, Michelle Wie, Roger Clemens, Tim Tebow, A-Rod…hey maybe even the other A-Rod? Ok, well that might be a stretch.

If they can lie, embellish, and exaggerate to us about that, then by God, they can lie, embellish, and exaggerate about anything.  And they have.

As critical thinking has gone the way of VCRs in this country, more and more people are easily manipulated by the narratives put forth by them.

Them being the media.

The media generates these narratives for two reasons: 1.) As Rich Conte so eloquently pointed out that I will directly quote him: “Players like [Ray] Lewis that court the cameras and the notebooks and align the media’s interests with their own get the favorable narrative and the chance to win the hearts and minds of the public.  The legacy of players (and coaches) that don’t make the media a priority take a hit.” And 2.) Of course, as always is the case in our sad state of affairs today – the money.  Certain individuals are inflated for the greater good of the media’s benefits.  Particularly if you’re…oh…I don’t know…ESPN, and you have advertising space you need to sell.  And that advertising space only increases in value the more ESPN can convince the masses to watch their product during that time frame. 

The ‘masses’ of sports fans, and even citizens of this country in general rarely look at all the bits of evidence that is put forth.  With the storytellers and the spinmasters dominating the information that is allowed to be filtered to the general public, evidence is getting that much harder to find.  One has to literally scour for it.  The arguments are being made for us.  They are being made by our very own information bearers.

People may not like to think this is the case.  But it is the unavoidable and undeniable truth.

There have been many athletes, teams, and other entities that have greatly benefited or so dearly suffered from this new generation of ‘coverage’ by the modern day American sports media.

Case in point: The aforementioned Kobe Bryant.

Bryant is routinely discussed as one of the ten best basketball players in the history of the sport.  Some even out of Los Angeles think there’s (gasp) an argument for him as the best basketball player…ever.  Myths, bad arguments, and other fallacies are used to push Mr. Bryant and elevate his status far beyond what it truly is.

In this space, we will debunk these myths and some of the most commonly used (bad) arguments that are meant to enhance the individual stature of Kobe Bean Bryant.

***

Myth #1: Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s best clutch performer in the game today, and one of the best, if not the best, of all time.

This is the most egregious myth of them all.  Why? Well, it is the predominant selling point of Kobe, yet nothing could be further from the truth.  It would be akin to saying that Jimmy Carter was a great president because the economy was oh so wonderful during his lone term.  Or that what made the Star Wars movies so compelling was they were able to capture everything without the use of special effects and CGI.

Kobe is a great player because he’s clutch (and some would argue the ‘most clutch’), when…he’s not?!

Fortunately, this subject has been addressed without me having to go too far into it.  Heck, I did a piece around this time last year revealing the fact that Kobe actually doesn’t have a signature game in the post-season while almost every all-time great (including that LeBron James guy) has multiple signature performances.

But there have been others who have gotten down and dirty with the details.  And it ain’t pretty.

Henry Abbott of ESPN did a wonderful takedown that exposed this utter fallacy back on the network’s website in January of 2011.

A writer who goes by the name “The NBA Realist” on one of the most underrated blogs out there, chasing23.com (although it has been awfully quiet lately), amassed data of Kobe’s shot attempts in the final 24 seconds of a playoff game where his team was trailing by three points or less.  Here’s what he came up with:

That doesn’t seem to be the embodiment of uber-clutchness, does it? And just for fun, since Abbot and chasing23’s breakdowns were only through the 2011, we’ll check out how Kobe fared in the 2012 regular season.  According to 82games.com, in the final five minutes of a game where no team leads by more than five points, Kobe shot a not-exactly-riveting 32% from the field; which is in the bottom third of the NBA players that qualified.

Ok, so by now we should all know that Kobe is far from this clutch-shot-making machine.  So how did we get here?

Well, we can tie that back to our friends in the media.  Throw in the advertisers and the commercials they air too, but we’ll stick with the media, particularly ESPN.  Allow me to walk you through the standard procedure:

1.)   Kobe hits a game winner.

2.)   The color commentator would then provide ‘analysis’ of the game winner like: “Is there anybody more clutch than that man?” (Stu Lantz) or “Kobe Bryant has ‘it’…whatever that it is – he has ‘it’…Kobe Bryant has ‘it’ just like Michael Jordan had ‘it.’” (Doc Rivers).

3.)   ESPN then plays this game winner for the next 12-16 immediate hours on seemingly endless repetition.

4.)   ESPN then has a Sports Center segment with two talking heads while one of the Sports Center anchors serving as a ‘moderator’ asks a question along the lines of: “Is Kobe the most clutch player in NBA history?” or “Who would you rather have taking the final shot: Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan?” or “Does Kobe’s clutch ability separate him from his peers like Dwayne Wade and LeBron James?”

5.)   While the two talking heads go ahead and debate and fawn over Kobe’s ‘legendary clutchness’ – ESPN then force-feeds the viewer the game winning shot from every different camera angle.

It borders on the brink of mind control.  In fact, is that what this really is? What other explanation can we give for the reason that so many people (including NBA general managers) feel this way about #24? The man hits a couple of game winners (yes, a couple – as Henry Abbott pointed out, from 1996-January 28th 2011, Kobe is just 36/115 in the final 24 seconds of a game with the Lakers trailing by three of fewer points.)  And then those few game winners get dissected with such [sarcasm] keen analysis [/sarcasm], go straight to YouTube and get six-to-seven-digit views, and are replayed over and over and over again.

Why is it that when say, Carmelo Anthony or Paul Pierce (statistically superior clutch shooters than Kobe the last few seasons) or whomever hit a game winner, their highlights never get this kind of treatment? I don’t have an answer for that question, nor does anyone.  And if you think you have the answer, you almost assuredly do not.

I liken back to the method Adolf Hitler and his chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels used to manipulate the German people during the 1930s:

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

Kobe Bryant being the modern day “Mr. Clutch” may not be some ghoulish Nazi-esque propaganda campaign put forth by the NBA’s marketing campaign (although with those money-hungry saps you never know.)  But I do know this: It is an out-and-outright boldfaced lie.  It’s simple.  They keep saying it.  And eventually everyone else is believing it.

Myth #2: Unlike LeBron James, Kobe is a legendary competitor who will do whatever it takes to win.  His will to win is comparable to that of a Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or Bill Russell.

Again, more media and Nike marketing spin.  What makes Kobe this ultra competitive guy? The fact that he underbites after a big shot?

I’m not saying Kobe is blasé about the outcomes of basketball games.  But the question really is: What makes him any more ‘competitive’ than his current peers like Carmelo, Pierce, Wade, or LeBron? Why does Kobe get the preferential treatment where he gets separated from these other players in certain aspects such as this? Did Kobe ‘call’ this before those guys did? “I’m the one who gets the media to repeat over and over again about what a warrior I am! I called it first!”

Remember when LeBron was chastised all those years for not wanting to win as much as Kobe? LeBron quit on his Cavs against the Celtics in the fifth game of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  Kobe never would’ve done that, they say.

Except Kobe did.

Game 7 2006 Western Conference First Round: Suns 121 Lakers 90

Kobe took three shots in the second half, made none of them, and scored one point (off a technical free throw.)

But once again, you don’t remember that, do you? But by God, you sure as hell remember LeBron’s lackadaisical effort in his final game as a Cavalier in Cleveland! It sure is interesting how that works, although it gets less interesting if you have a clue.

Yes, Kobe wants to win, I would not doubt that.  In fact, he probably does have more of a competitive edge than today’s typical NBA player (although, that isn’t saying much.)  But let’s be clear here: Kobe wants to win…HIS way. Best player on the team, a supporting cast that plays off of his game; he has to be the one who gets all the credit.  Am I right, Shaq?

God forbid when Kobe is winning championships as a second banana and not being the one posing on magazine and DVD covers, or the one with the Finals MVP trophies – well, he just can’t have that.

So, he initiates a feud with fellow teammate Shaquille O’Neal, a player who, at the peak of his powers may have been the greatest ever (key phrase: at the peak of his powers, not over the course of his career), and essentially sabotages a dynasty.

This came to its greatest height during the 2004 Finals, when Kobe put the individual accolades of trying to capture his first Finals MVP and trying to put his stamp on the series over the greater goals of the team (winning the series, and with it – the championship.)  The result: Kobe shoots the Lakers out of the Finals (shooting a grotesque 38% on 113 shot attempts, far and away more field goal attempts than any other player in the series, and an NBA Finals record for a five game series) all while his superior teammate (Shaq) never sees the ball (just 84 field goal attempts to Kobe’s egregious 113) despite dominating the opposition by shooting 63% from the field.  The Lakers would get blown out in the series (with only two of the games even being remotely close) in what is the greatest upset in NBA Finals history (in terms of Vegas odds prior to the series.)

After Kobe jettisoned Shaq, the Lakers plummeted from a dynasty into mediocrity.  With a pedestrian supporting cast surrounding Kobe, the Lakers spent the middle of the 2000s in NBA purgatory – hovering around 40 wins as a fringe playoff team.

Despite finally having a team to himself, Kobe then started blasting management and his fellow teammates for…not having quality talent around him! The audacity of this man, who forced the Lakers to trade an all-time great for one decent player (Lamar Odom) and scraps at a time when he was still regarded as a top three player in the league, AND THEN proceeded to hold the Lakers up on a contract that would eventually pay him 30 million dollars in a season that would clog up cap space and salary flexibility – the guy complained about the other players on his team and the makeup of the rest of the roster?!

Therein lies why we keep hearing about Kobe’s ‘fire.’  It is this writer’s opinion that it is his cover for probably being the worst teammate in NBA history.  It’s a two-man race between him and Rick Barry.  When Kobe’s obsession for personal glory leads to inefficient gunning costing his team as it did in the 2004 Finals, or nearly did during the 2010 Finals, we hear from the media, and even Bryant himself as a matter of fact, that Kobe “just wanted it so bad.”

Please.

I pity you if you buy that.

Unlike his reputation as the modern day Mr. Clutch – this particular myth isn’t as outrageous.  The Black Mamba certainly has a will-to-win, as evidence by the fact that he’s still playing at a high level with so many miles on his body.  But again, why is this something where he’s held on a different pedestal from his peers? Why this narrative?

Kobe wants to win.  Sure.  Just on his terms. Therefore, I wouldn’t call that ‘legendary competitiveness’ by any stretch of imagination.

Myth #3: Kobe Bryant: Defensive stalwart

Again, all reputation yet no substance, no data, no…proof.  Outside of 2005, since 2000, Kobe has always appeared on either the NBA All Defense First or Second Team.  Early in his career, Kobe certainly had his moments on the defensive side of the ball, particularly his defense on Mike Bibby in the second half of Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals which helped spur that Laker comeback.

However, since then, his perceived ‘lockdown’ defense is based all on an early career reputation and some moments on national television.  In Phil Jackson’s book on the 2004 Lakers, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul,” the 11-time World Champion head coach elaborated on this even more:

“Kobe’s defense, to be accurate, has faltered in recent years, despite his presence on the league’s all-defensive team.  The voters have been seduced by his remarkable athleticism and spectacular steals, but he hasn’t played sound, fundamental defense.  Mesmerized by the ball, he’s gambled too frequently, putting us out of position, forcing rotations that leave a man wide open, and doesn’t keep his feet on the ground.”

That’s from his own coach.  Has Kobe’s D looked any better since Phil wrote this back in ‘04? To the objective eye, quite simply, no way.

How about the numbers? What do they say?

Defensive Rating (Points by the opposition with Kobe on the floor per 100 possessions, with the league average in parentheses):

2005: 111 (103.1)

2006: 105 (103.4)

2007: 109 (103.7)

2008: 105 (104.7)

2009: 106 (105.4)

2010: 104 (104.9)

2011: 105 (104.5)

2012: 106 (101.8)

As you can see, only once (2010, barely) did Bryant out perform the league average.

But, defensive rating is more of a “team stat,” they say (even though the Mamba plays on a team if you didn’t know.)  So, for fun, we’ll use a more individual stat for measuring defense: Defensive win shares.  Again, it’s not flawless (as no advanced metric or any kind of single statistic in general truly is), but it’s a more than fair way to judge a player’s defensive prowess.  Again, here are Bryant’s numbers starting in 2005, with the league ranking in parentheses:

2005: 1.0 (228th)

2006: 2.7 (27th)

2007: 2.2 (94th)

2008: 4.3 (15th)

2009: 4.0 (19th)

2010: 4.2 (16th)

2011: 3.5 (31st)

2012: 2.0 (72nd)

By contrast, Bryant’s usual NBA All Defense teammate Kevin Garnett has only ranked out of the top-10 twice during this time frame (19th in 2009, and 24th in ’10, otherwise known as the year he tore up his knee, and the year after he was recuperating from surgery.)  And certainly, Garnett never ranked 72nd, 94th, or … 228th.

I could go on and on about this, but by now, I guess you can catch my drift.  I’m not the first one to tackle this travesty, and hopefully I won’t be the last.

Myth #4: Kobe’s basketball IQ is off the charts.

Once again, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”  The talking heads have beaten our heads with this one.  And once again, they have done so with no data or evidence.

So I ask this:  How often do you ever see Kobe ‘outsmart’ an opponent? Like, never?

Does he ever make the pass that makes you go “Wow! How did he see that?!” the way a Larry Bird did for example?

On defense, does he ever…oh that’s right, let’s not go there.

Kobe shoots a lot, drives to the basket a lot, gets to the free throw line a lot, and scores a lot.  He has incredible athletic ability for sure.  But some sort of basketball savant? Hardly.

***

Now we move on to the bad arguments. The onslaught of falsification and inflating of Kobe’s value have spawned these arguments, just like the myths.  These arguments are generally used by what you think are the dregs of society, yet are still presented by far too many people it seems.  And these arguments are used in (fruitless) efforts to validate their perceived greatness of Kobe Bryant.

Bad argument #1: Kobe’s got five rings!

Reality: Kobe has two rings as an alpha-dog, and three rings as a somewhat replaceable second banana.  While Kobe does have five championships, back in the early 2000s, Kobe could have easily been replaced with about seven to eight players who were in the league at the time and the Lakers still would have likely three-peated (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and maybe even Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd – although I am not sure how the latter two would have worked in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense.)  At the bare minimum, the Lakers would have won in 2000 and 2001 with those players in place of Kobe solely based on how dominant Shaq was during that timeframe.

Sam Jones (10 championships) and John Havlicek (eight championships) are two of the all-time greats at the very position Kobe plays (shooting guard.)  But no one ever discusses them as potential ‘greatest ever’ candidates and uses their ring count as the predominant reason for it.  Why? Because those two were always the second or third best player on those Celtics title teams! Same thing with Scottie Pippen.  Pippen is arguably a top-15 player in NBA history (and unarguably a top-25.)  But how often is he credited for “six rings?”

Some will point to Magic Johnson as the ultimate disclaimer in this.  Magic was never the best player on his Lakers teams until 1987, and therefore was only the alpha-dog for two of Los Angeles’ titles in the 1980s.  However, even during the years Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the Lakers’ best player (1980-1986), (roughly) 50% of the offense still ran through Magic when he was on the court.  More importantly, his skill made up the identity of that Laker team and ended up defining the Lakers during that era (it was a little thing called ‘Showtime.’)  Magic back then could not have been replaced with a handful of guys in the league at the time the same way Kobe could have been in the early 2000s.  In fact, Magic was never replaceable with anybody.

This isn’t to discredit the championships that Kobe did win, but it’s utterly ludicrous that all five championships are attributed to him the same way Bill Russell’s 11 were, or Michael Jordan’s six were.  Unquestionably, those were their teams.  That just isn’t the case with all of Kobe’s five titles.

Bad argument #2: Kobe’s got five rings! Wake me up when LeBron’s got that.

Kobe-backers have trouble dealing with LeBron James’ success because he will unquestionably blitz by his inferior peer, if he hasn’t already (and in my mind, he has, and it isn’t even close.)  So this ‘argument’ is sort of a last retort.

But as stated above, Bryant has just two titles as the alpha-dog, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that King James will have no trouble topping that, as well as having a good chance at catching and passing the Mamba’s overall ring mark.

But here’s something that Team Kobe always seems to avoid: That is that LeBron, and other true all-time greats – during the primes of their careers, their teams always were in the title mix one way or the other.  No matter who they had on their team.  One can’t say that (2005-2007, 2013) for one Kobe Bryant.

Players such as Jordan, Russell, Magic, Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, and yes even LeBron and Shaq were able to single-handedly elevate their teams to elite, or borderline elite status no matter who they had on the rest of their roster.

Let’s go down the line here:

Shaquille O’Neal: Outside of his rookie season (1993) when he joined a 21-win Orlando Magic team – Shaq’s teams were always in the mix for championships from 1994-2007.  His teams would always win at least 50 games and that did not stop until the point where his body began breaking down and he was no longer capable of being the lead guy anyways.

Wilt Chamberlain: Starting in his third season, Dipper was never on a team that wasn’t a legitimate title contender, despite having rosters such as these.

Larry Bird: Joined a 29-win team his rookie season, and instantly turned them into a 61-win juggernaut.  When Robert Parish and Kevin McHale arrived the following year, the Celtics would win the title.  The Celtics were essentially championship contenders from the moment Bird put on the Celtics jersey for the first time to the moment where he took it off for the last time.  Bonus points: When Bird was KO’d with an Achilles injury in 1989 and missed all but six games, the Celtics went from the best record in the East to an eight seed.

Magic Johnson: Competed for championships his whole career.  When he was forced to retire in the fall of 1991, the Lakers went from NBA Finalist to an eight seed who made the playoffs on the last day.

Bill Russell: Seriously?

Michael Jordan: It took a little longer for him than the rest, but if you don’t include his 1986 season (in which he only appeared in 18 regular season games because of a broken foot) – starting in his third full season in 1988, the Bulls would contend.  Jordan became otherworldly in ‘88, winning MVP despite a career season from Bird (an insane 29.9-9.3-6.1 averages while shooting 52.7/41.4/91.6%), as well as capturing the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year to boot.  Jordan took a team with Charles Oakley and Dave Corzine (!!!) as their second and third leading scorers to 50 wins and the second round of the post-season in an utterly loaded Eastern Conference.  Once Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant started to develop, the Bulls went from title contenders to unstoppable dynasty.

LeBron James: While he gets (deservedly) dumped on for some playoff failures (mailing it in against the Celtics in 2010, and his favored-Miami Heat folding against the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals in 2011), the fact remains that LeBron’s teams have been competing for titles since his third year in the league (this seems to be the standard number here – Wilt, Jordan, and now LeBron.)  James took a team whose starting lineup was Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the NBA Finals in 2007.  And then won 66 games in 2009 and 61 games in 2010 on a Cavs team where their second best player was Mo Williams! And for good measure, once James begins piling up the championship trophies, people will begin to forget about his early career playoff mishaps pretty quick.

The only other all-time NBA pantheon guy that one could say was not always on title contenders during his prime was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  In 1976, 1978, and 1979, the Lakers were, at best, in the NBA’s second tier (and in ’76, the Lakers missed the post-season outright.)  However, even in Kareem’s case, he took a team of shabby NBA journeymen to the best record in the league and the Western Conference Finals in 1977.

Kobe, on the other hand, even at the absolute peak of his powers in the middle of the 2000s (as Kobe-backers love to point out – when he was scoring 81, 65, 62 in three quarters, etc.) had the Lakers in complete no-man’s land in the NBA landscape.  It wasn’t until the Lakers acquired the league’s best offensive big man (Pau Gasol) for no one in their rotation at the time in which they were able to compete for championships again.

So just remember.  Whenever you hear some simpleton reason, or God forbid, argument, for Kobe’s greatness along the lines of “Kobe’s got five!” or “Kobe’s won five titles! What does LBJ got?!” – I’d present this to them.

Bad argument #3: Of course Kobe is an all-time great, if not the best ever! Look at his resume!

Tell this to the NFL teams that interview Norv Turner every time he’s mooching around for a head coach position about the value of ‘great resumes.’

Basketball ability and even basketball greatness is not defined by resumes.  Critically thinking basketball observers do not decide who’s better than who by looking at the sidebar on a player’s Wikipedia page.  We watch them play.  We make judgments for ourselves.  We look at facts and we look at data.

Do you really give a crap that Bryant is a four-time All Star Game MVP? Or should we care how many times he’s started the NBA All Star Game when we know what a reprehensible farce it is (remember Kobe being voted as a starter by the masses for the 1998 All Star Game when he…WASN’T EVEN A STARTER ON HIS OWN TEAM?!) And should we really care about those NBA All Defense Team appearances when we know the majority of them are fraudulent?

One of the main reasons why resumes shouldn’t hold much water is that players of yesteryear generally did not play as long, nor play at a sustained high level as today’s players do.  And for obvious reasons: They flew commercial instead of on private jets (think of how much sleep and the ability for the body to repair that cost them every single day.)  They did not stay in luxury suites.  They played a far, far, FAR more condensed schedule – especially those in the 50s, 60s and early 70s where back-to-back-to-backs were common.  They didn’t have the cushy sneakers.  And oh yeah, they didn’t have the benefits of (cough) “modern medicine” (cough) (cough).

Therefore, of course guys like Kobe (and Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce) rack up more accolades than their predecessors, and move up these milestone rankings.  And for guys like Kobe, KG, Dirk, and even Pierce – they are still playing at a high level despite being in the league 15+ years.  Before the 2000s, the only two guys EVER to remain one of the game’s best players despite being in the league that long were Kareem and Karl Malone (nope, not even Jordan, who only remained one of the best after 13 seasons.)   Now it’s common.

However, if the holy sacred resume matters so much – well then, what about that single MVP award on Kobe’s seemingly glorious resume? And even that was more of a lifetime achievement award.  And before one says, “Well Kobe should’ve won in ’06!” – in the last 30 years, no league MVP was ever on anything less than a third seed.  The ’06 Lakers were 45-win, seven seed, first-round-knockout junk.  The 2006 NBA MVP is in the rightful hands of Steve Nash.

In fact, Kobe’s lone MVP is fairly telling.  For a guy who was referred to as ‘best in the game’ by so many in the media during his prime, they never truly seemed to think so at the end of the day.  But that is neither here nor there.  What is, is that resumes matter very little when it comes to evaluating who is or was a better basketball player.

Bad argument #4: If you were starting a team, Kobe is one of the first guys you’d take all time to build around.

Automatic picks ahead of Kobe: Russell, Jordan, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Bird, LeBron.  Those are seven guys that, if you were starting your own team, you wouldn’t think twice about picking them over the Mamba.  We won’t even discuss this.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Likely picks ahead of Kobe: Oscar, West, Shaq, Duncan, Olajuwon

Possible picks ahead of Kobe: Garnett, Pippen, Wade, Malone, Bob Pettit, Moses Malone, Dirk, Rick Barry, Charles Barkley

Dominant big men like Shaq, Duncan, and Olajuwon hold far more value than a one-dimensional shooting guard (no matter how effective that one-dimension, scoring, is.)  Being able to surround a team around a dominant big man, especially dominant big men that can pass just as Shaq, Duncan, and Hakeem could, is far easier than surrounding a team around a high-usage shooting guard.

Just look at Olajuwon alone.  The Dream was one of the very few superstars of all time that won a championship without a second star, (Bill Walton in ’77, Bird in ’81, and Dirk in ’11.)  The Rockets surrounded him with a cast of three-point shooters, and won back-to-back championships by having Hakeem either score in the post, or get double teamed and kick it out to an open shooter (Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Clyde Drexler, etc.)

In terms of possibles, I’d certainly argue for Pippen, Garnett, and Oscar Robertson ahead of Kobe.  All three of them are (or were) far superior all around talents to Bryant.  For their positions, all three were excellent passers, rebounders, and defenders.  In the case of Garnett and Pippen, they’re two of the greatest defensive players in NBA history.  And for Oscar, he’s one of the game’s great playmakers.

Most importantly, these are three players that have proved to be great complimentary pieces.  Their array of abilities allows them to fit into any team.  They can adjust to any team, whereas teams have to adjust to Kobe.  Bryant could never pull off what Garnett did in 2008, where upon arrival, he let the offense run through two other players and decided to serve as the team’s defensive anchor, despite his own extraordinarily advanced game on the offensive end of the floor.

And that right there alone is the biggest reason why Kobe is not one of the ten or fifteen best basketball players to ever live, let alone a member of the NBA’s pantheon.  With Kobe, he has to have a team perfectly built around him (an elite big man, some quality perimeter defenders, outside shooters), for that team to succeed.  And for him to look good while the team is successful, he has to have the ball a fair amount of the time.  He’s not beating you with his defense nor his rebounding on a night-in-and-night-out basis.  If he’s playing off the ball – he’s a good spot up shooter, but not great.  He doesn’t move without the ball like a Reggie Miller or a John Havlicek.

There are a lot more players in NBA history that can do or have done what Kobe does than you think.  And while you may not want to believe it, there are plenty of players that have played basketball at its highest level throughout its history that can do or have done what Kobe Bryant does, as well as much, much more.

Bad argument #5: …Hater!

(sigh)

 

All statistics were provided by basketball-reference.com unless noted otherwise

Larry H. Russell

Senior editor and featured columnist for CLNS Radio. Celtics Beat Podcast Executive Producer. Celtics writer and historian. E-mail: LHRussell@clnsradio.com