Kobe is the king of the decade.
ESPN: The 1990s were obviously owned by Michael Jordan. The 1980s were co-owned by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the most feared force in the 1970s, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain bossed the 1960s and George Mikan and Bob Cousy are synonymous with the 1950s.
If only the 2000s broke down so neatly.
You can’t even get to the likes of LeBron or KG because of the thickly layered debate generated by this most complicated of triangles: Shaq, Duncan and Kobe.
O’Neal is the most dominant post man of his generation and the first big man in hoops history to truly connect with the mainstream public … but the next team he leaves on good terms will be the first.
Duncan can match Shaq’s four championship rings and won them down in unfashionable south Texas with three different supporting casts — as well as the sweetest bank shot in the modern game — but treasures his privacy as much as those rings and thus might never be fully appreciated for the sort of champion and teammate he is.
As for Bryant, well, No. 8-turned-No. 24 is only the most polarizing figure in NBA history, concurrently beloved and loathed worldwide.
You get dizzy just thinking about the various highs and lows on the Kobe Coaster over these past 10 years, from his 81-point game and last spring’s championship breakthrough sans Shaq to the dark days of Colorado and a forever tense coexistence with O’Neal that remains somewhat of a Hollywood soap opera to this day.
But let’s be honest.
No one has ever shouldered the Next Jordan burden like Bryant, who would suddenly appear to have a decent shot at surpassing MJ’s six titles in Chicago with the crew he’s got in Lakerland now. He’s been the consensus top talent in the league for years and is widely considered its hardest worker.