Since Kobe Bryant’s career will be winding down here pretty soon, as a huge Kobe fan, I cannot help but begin to wonder what Laker-land will be like once # 24 decides to call it quits. I mean, the last time that the Los Angeles Lakers were without Kobe was when Bill Clinton was still in office, Nintendo 64’s graphics were considered to be amazing, and the Lakers’ franchise had (only) 11 NBA Championships.
As of now, I personally cannot fathom what it is going to be like when the Lakers do not have Kobe Bryant, and I’m sure many other Laker-fans concur. As we prepare ourselves to grasp, accept, and embrace this harsh reality, a few questions are still up-in-the-air.
One question that is lingering amongst Laker-fans is: when will Kobe retire? Will he play until the NBA has to practically shove him into retirement, even when his greatest contributions might be coming off the bench? Or, as Michael Jordan should have done, will he hang the jersey up while in his mid-30’s, when he is still good for 25-5-5 and (hopefully) has a few more rings? Where will he finally settle in the list of most points accumulated throughout one’s career? How many more (if any) MVP trophies will he win?
It’s kind of strange to think we will have these answers within this upcoming decade. However, this has to be one of the most intriguing questions of them all: where will Kobe Bryant – after his jersey is retired – finally rank among the Greatest Players of All Time?
In light of the recent 2009 inductees of the Basketball Hall of Fame (mainly Michael Jordan), let’s evaluate what criteria basketball fans and critics consider when assessing a player’s greatness. One obvious aspect of the game that the player must have is great statistics. Even though a player’s statistics does not entirely represent their production on the court, they still give us a good idea of what they’re doing out there and how they are contributing to the team. Also, we must take into account the player’s championships, MVP awards, other accolades (I.E. Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA selections, etc), and, of course, the legacy they leave behind. Needless to say, players who meet and/or exceed these criteria are extremely rare. Fortunately for us as Laker-fans, we were able to witness a 17-year-old kid fresh from high school grow and develop into one of these players; the beauty of it is that Kobe’s legacy is completely self-made, a la Michael Jordan.
In order for us to determine where Kobe is going to be ranked among the greatest of all time, we must first decide where he is ranked at this moment. From an NBA-analyst’s perspective, last year’s remarkable championship-run instantaneously propelled Mamba into a position as, at least, one of the top-15. From their eyes, Kobe finally won a ring without Shaq and proved that he could do it while being the undisputed leader of the team. In my opinion, Kobe was already up there. In fact, I believe that after last year’s run, we can easily make a legitimate case for Kobe being in the top-10.
In a recent Slam Magazine that I read (issue #130), they had Kobe ranked at #12. Although this ranking was before Kobe’s latest ring, they still probably would not have moved him much higher. To me, some questionable players that they had ahead of Kobe were: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. I can argue all day why, at least, Kobe rightfully should be ahead of these three. I could even attempt to make a case for Kobe against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain (Slam had him at #2), Bill Russell (#3), and Larry Bird (#9); but this would mean I would have to go into detail about how the NBA game has changed dramatically within the last 20 years.
I’ll save that for another day.
Instead, I am going to look at what it will take for Kobe to accomplish his own main goal: being #1. Granted, it is going to be very hard to overturn Michael Jordan’s spot at #1, mainly because Jordan’s legacy involved the evolution of the business-aspect of this game. Let’s assess each of their accomplishments. Jordan’s on-court accolades look something like this: six championships, five MVP’s, 14 All-Star appearances (three MVP’s), six Finals MVP’s, one Defensive Player of the Year, one Rookie of the Year, two Dunk Contest Championships, two Gold Medals, ten All-NBA First-Team and nine All-NBA Defensive First-Team selections. WOW!
As intimidating as that looks, Kobe Bryant’s is definitely not-too-shabby: four championships, one MVP, 11 All-Star appearances (three MVP’s), one Finals MVP, two scoring titles, one Dunk Contest Championship, one Gold Medal, seven All-NBA First-Team and seven All-NBA Defensive First-Team selections. Also, Kobe’s career statistics are slightly lower than Jordan’s (25-5-5 vs. 30-6-5).
So far, Jordan has Kobe beat in every category, which brings us back to one of our initial questions: how much longer will Kobe play? If he decides to stick around for five more seasons, then he can surpass Jordan in some of these categories, and make it pretty close in others. But will it be enough for him to be considered greater than Michael Jordan?
My Predictions –
I am a realist, and as much as I would want for Kobe Bryant to be widely considered the Best of all Time, I just don’t see it happening. Michael Jordan left a revolutionary imprint on this game that I don’t think will ever be duplicated. Furthermore, Kobe’s accomplishments and accolades will be very close to Jordan’s, but not quite all the way there. One award that especially sticks out that Kobe unlikely will touch: Jordan’s five MVP trophies. Hopefully, Kobe will add at least one or two more, but that could be wishful thinking.
Although I personally think that Kobe is a better scorer than Jordan (best scorer in NBA history, in my opinion – again, reserved for another article), I think Jordan will remain at #1 as G.O.A.T. when Kobe’s #24 jersey is retired (and maybe #8?).
So, where does this leave Mamba? I predict that he will win two more rings, two more Finals MVP’s, and one more Regular-Season MVP, along with All-Star, All-NBA First-Team, and All-NBA Defensive First-Team selections for virtually all of the remaining seasons he will play. These, along with his many other accomplishments and achievements, should be good for a slot within the top-5 Greatest of All Time.
These upcoming seasons will answer many of our questions, and don’t think that Kobe will not be determined to raise his stock either. Laker-fans, we are in for a treat.
My Current Rankings (based off legacy, consistency, dominance, hardware, and statistics) –
#1 – Michael Jordan
#2 – Bill Russell
#3 – Magic Johnson
#4 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
#5 – Shaquille O’Neal*
#6 – Wilt Chamberlain
#7 – Kobe Bryant*
#8 – Tim Duncan* **
#9 – Larry Bird
#10 – Oscar Robertson
**This was a tough decision, but Kobe barely edged him for #7.
TELL ME, WHERE DO YOU THINK KOBE WILL RANK WHEN IT’S ALL SAID AND DONE?