As was the case with Derek Jeter during the summer, it is time to say goodbye to Kobe Bryant, revisit his career and determine his legacy. Unlike Jeter, Kobe has not announced any retirement plans and in all likelihood will be back next year. Bryant is likely out for the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff, which will make it the third straight season he doesn’t finish. He’s averaging 22 PPG on 37% shooting, leading one of the worst Laker teams in history.
It is generally accepted that The Black Mamba will go down as an all time-top ten player. Some will make the argument for top five and point to the rings, the stats and his likeness to Michael Jordan as legitimate reasons, but does Kobe really have any business being compared to Jordan? Does he really deserve a solidified spot in the top ten? The short and easy answer is no.
Rings: Kobe can sport five championship rings any day of the week. It’s an achievement that only 25 other players in NBA history can put on their resume. However, we’re talking about cementing this guy as a legend among legends, so it needs to be understood that Kobe Bryant may have five rings, but was only the best player on his team for two of them. The three Laker championship teams from 2000 to 2002 were led by Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is considered the most dominant center of the modern game. In those three seasons, he averaged 27+ PPG, shot 57% and pulled down 12.3 RPG. Additionally, the attention he demanded on every possession allowed for Phil Jackson’s triangle offense to thrive. After a feud between Kobe and Shaq forced the organization to trade the older O’Neal in 2004, the Laker struggled for several years. Bryant didn’t win again until 2009 and 2010 when the Lakers traded for one of the league’s best big men, Pau Gasol.
Kobe can flat out score. He is without a doubt an all-time top five all-around scorer. His turn-around jumper rivals Jordan’s, as does his interior footwork, which translates into a stellar post-up game. In 2005-06, he averaged 35 PPG for the 45-37 Lakers, exiting from the playoffs in the first round at the hands of Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns. Bryant’s unbelievable knack for scoring has actually inhibited his ability to close out games, despite popular opinion. Although most fans have the impression of shooting guard as a clutch closer, the truth is that not only does he not improve in big game situations, he struggles. According to swishnba.com, in the final 24 seconds, Bryant shoots 29.7% in the regular season and 25% in the postseason. On the other hand, Michael Jordan is 50% on game-tying or winning shots in his career. The blind confidence Bryant has in his scoring ability prevents him from making smart basketball decisions at the end of games. He’s going to shoot, and every person in the arena knows it.
Finally, a question that popped up in my mind when going over Bryant’s career is, does he have the magical moments? When you think of Jordan, there is The Shrug, after he hit six threes in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 Finals, the shot against the Cavs that advanced the Bulls in the playoffs and the step back jumper against the Jazz to seal his sixth and final ring. When you think of Kobe, what spectacular moments come to mind? This isn’t to say that Kobe Bryant is not a fantastic player, champion, hall of famer, and possible all-time great. All it is meant to do is keep the debate open.