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June 15, 2009

Kobe best-ever? Not quite yet

The compelling power of new...

My boss contacted me Monday afternoon, suggesting I blog about this post-NBA Finals chatter that Kobe Bryant is now the greatest pro basketball player ever. I love what Bryant did this post-season, particularly in how he picked his spots to attack, versus setting up teammates. You can't be best-ever without raising the players around you.

Best player right here/right now? Sure. Best, compared to the history of the NBA? Please....

Without slighting Bryant's four championships, one MVP and Olympic gold medal, I'd place him fourth on the all-timer list behind (in order): Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. That means I'll accept that Bryant is now ahead of Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. That's high praise.

Value can be defined many ways: Most impactful, hardest to replace, most compelling. Bryant's accomplishments rate high by each of those measures, but not highest in any.

Most impactful: I don't know that the Chicago Bulls would have won any of those six championships without Jordan. It's remarkable that a guard could do all that Bryant does at both ends. Jordan did that much more. Larry Brown makes an excellent point, that if the hand-check rule now in place was enforced when Jordan played, he'd average 50 points a game. And probably have a couple more rings.

Hardest to replace: Russell was the centerpiece of 11 NBA championship teams. He controlled the game defensively as it's never been controlled before or since. Can you imagine averaging 22.5 rebounds for a career? What's more game-changing than that?

Most compelling: For the record, Johnson has one more championship and two more MVPs (yes, I realize Bryant isn't done playing). But remember this: Johnson might be the only player in NBA history who could switch from point guard to center, in the midst of the NBA Finals, and win a title as a rookie.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 15, 2009 at 04:37 PM | Permalink


Please, everybody knows that Robert Horry is the best ever, just look at all his rings. J/k

Posted by: Bro. D | Jun 15, 2009 5:12:00 PM

I don't think it's fair to say that any one of those players is the "best ever". The Big O did amazing things. Averaging a triple double for a season, even in that era, is nuts. I've always thought that Earvin Johnson was the best all-around for his ability to play all five positions and play them well. Words fail in describing the cornerstone that Russell was for that incredible championship run. Jordan had an incredible run as well. But they are all quite different players. Can't apples to apples with them. Kobe is one of the all-time greats and does not, and I fear will not ever, get the credit deserved.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 15, 2009 5:17:38 PM

Where is Kelly Tripuka?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Posted by: jeff | Jun 15, 2009 5:29:32 PM

Insightful look at the "best ever" Rick, thanks! I find myself persuaded by your evaluations, and agree with the ranking of Jordan, Russell, Magic, then Kobe. The great challenge for Bryant is finding any way to climb higher. How do you leap over Magic? Another championship, maybe 2, with leadership at this level might do it. But past Russell, or Jordan? Nope.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 15, 2009 5:39:50 PM

Wilt Chamberlian has got to be included as one of the best ever.

Posted by: Rico | Jun 15, 2009 5:46:19 PM

I would argue Kobe beef is among the greatest of all time. Or Wagyu.

Posted by: David | Jun 15, 2009 5:50:31 PM

What about Wilt?!?!?!

He scored more than Russel (30ppg vs 15 ppg)and had slightly better reb. average (22.9rpg vs Russel's 22.5rpg) but played one year longer!

Wilt couldn't take plays off on the offesive end because he was the focus of the offense. Russel could rest on offense.

Until someone posts career stats like these, it's still a one horse race. Wilt!


Posted by: Philly dave | Jun 15, 2009 5:54:19 PM

we always talk about the bulls not winning championships without Jordan. But could Jordan win a champion without Pippen.

Posted by: boywonder | Jun 15, 2009 5:55:51 PM

If you compare MJ's career scoring, rebounding, and assist averages, he leads Kobe. Throw in All-Defensive teams too.

Posted by: caleb | Jun 15, 2009 6:20:39 PM

Chamberlain was great, no doubt. But playing four seasons with Jerry West and two with Elgin Baylor, he won exactly one title. So it's hard to place him above Russell.

Posted by: Rick Bonnell | Jun 15, 2009 6:42:16 PM

How about "GranMaMa" Larry Johnson.....just kidding! Ultimately, Lebron James may end up as the all time best. But the best ever until further notice is MJ hands down.

Posted by: MajorLeague | Jun 15, 2009 7:00:08 PM

Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. It is not debatable, there is no close second (and second sure as hell isn't Kobe Bryant). End of story.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 15, 2009 7:44:29 PM

Every one of you is nuts.

I look at it this way - The All-Time NBA team:

F Larry Bird
F Julius Erving
C Bill Russell
G Oscar Robertson
G Magic Johnson

I pick these 5 because they each completely changed the way pro basketball was played. During the 80s, you could go to your local playground and see kids actually passing - trying to be like Bird & Magic.

All Jordan did (and all Kobe is doing now), was dominate the NBA more than anyone else dominated their era. They are Hall of Famers, to be sure, but not the tops all time. Jordan actually made the NBA worse - because he was so dominant, he made millions of kids around the world (and a lot of them are in the NBA now) think, "I'm the whole team. Give me the ball and get out of my way."

Posted by: J | Jun 15, 2009 9:52:27 PM

There is no way that Kobe Bryant is better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!! He are the facts to back it up:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
6× NBA Champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
6× NBA MVP (1971-1972, 1974, 1976-1977, 1980)
19× NBA All-Star (1970-1977, 1979-1989)
2× NBA Finals MVP (1971, 1985)
10× All-NBA First Team Selection (1971-1973, 1974, 1976-1977, 1980-1981, 1984, 1986)
5× All-NBA Second Team Selection (1970, 1978-1979, 1983, 1985)
5× NBA All-Defensive First Team Selection (1974-1975, 1979-1981)
6× NBA All-Defensive Second Team Selection (1970-1971, 1976-1978, 1984)
1970 NBA Rookie of the Year
1970 NBA All-Rookie Team
NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team

Posted by: Chris | Jun 15, 2009 10:06:41 PM

What about Adam Morrison? He's my favorite player because he is the best. Kobe couldn't have won the championship without me, I mean him!

Posted by: Not Adam Morrison | Jun 15, 2009 10:18:17 PM

Rick, you're pretty much on the money as usual. It's very difficult to rate players in different situations, let alone different eras, but I've never seen anyone put a team on his back as consistently and effectively as MJ. And he came up with more big plays in big situations than anyone in the history of the game. If you want to compare MJ to Kobe - just look at their FG percentages. MJ was a bigger and more efficient scorer, a better defender, and even averaged 8 assists a game one year.

As far as Wilt goes - his individual accomplishments are legendary, but he spent most of his career trying to answer critiques of his individual game as opposed to just winning. In 1967, after being the centerpiece of what is still considered the greatest team of all time by some, and with all the key pieces back, Wilt's 76ers couldn't beat an aging Celtic team. Wilt had become obsessed with assists because critics said all he did was score and didn't win. Wilt took one shot in the 4th qt of the deciding game vs. the Celtics. He had become so obsessed with piling up assists - he even led the league in '68, unbelievable for a center - that he couldn't do what he did best when it counted. That pretty much sums up his career.

As for Kareem, he was excellent for a long, long time, but aside from his first few years in the league, was not the dominant force Kobe has been for a number of years now.

My top 10 -

Of course, Kobe still has time to move up.

Posted by: manifest | Jun 15, 2009 10:37:41 PM

J- I think we are all dumber for reading that garbage. #23 not even on an all-time team? Get out of here.

You say Jordan's motto is give me the ball and get out of my way? How about the passes to Kerr and Paxson for crucial shots? And when he wasn't passing he was hitting CHAMPIONSHIP winning shots.

1 College National Championship (in which he hit the winning shot)
6 NBA Championships (maybe could have had 7 or 8 if we wouldn't have taken a season and a half off during his prime)
2 Gold Medals
6 Finals MVP
10 NBA All-First Team

Jordan won titles with Bird and Magic in the league. To say Jordan isn't the best of all-time is debatable at best. To say he isn't top 5 of all time is absurd.

Posted by: Rico | Jun 15, 2009 11:13:28 PM

The NBA is weak!! Expansion and the player's limited skills have made for a bad product. The Lakers won because the Magic blew 2 games, not because they were such a great team. Someone must have needed some blog material on a slow news day.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 15, 2009 11:49:33 PM

When you are talking about Best ever between Kobe and Bryant, you have to look at Finals MVPs as much as number of Finals won by his team. So they are Kobe 4 and MJ 6, they are Kobe 1 and MJ 6. If Kobe can win 5 more Finals MVPs before he retires, he can once again talk about trying to be as good as MJ was.

Rick's mention of the 'hand-check' rule is huge. How often is Kobe whining about being fouled. Also the "Jordan-rules" against the Bad Boys in Detroit, MJ would've been to the Finals two years prior as everyone on Detroit's team would've been suspeneded for reaching their flagrant foul limit in the first 2 games of the series.

Posted by: BlockParty | Jun 16, 2009 6:06:03 AM

Don't forget that Kobe wasn't even the best player on his team for those first three Championships.
Kobe is a great NBA player for certain but to say that he's anywhere near the same player as Bird or Abdul-Jabbar or even Shaq is absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by: ASChin | Jun 16, 2009 7:58:19 AM

Please tell your boss not to quit his day job. Oh, maybe it is his day job. So you've put together a list greatest players with more than 2 titles. Actually, I'd have to Check Robertson. He might have only had one. But the point is are we only judging by championships? Jerry West has championships where is he? By now you've read the Wilt comments. I would put Kobe in the top 10, but not where you have him.

Posted by: Charles | Jun 16, 2009 9:04:18 AM

Oh and there was a guy named George Mikan. He was pretty good. You might want to throw him in the top 10.

Posted by: Charles | Jun 16, 2009 9:14:55 AM

Adam Morrison is the best ever.

Posted by: 12 Minutes of Bobcat Energy | Jun 16, 2009 5:29:49 PM

You are an idiot, Jordan was not bad for the NBA, during the years that Jordan and the Bulls won the titles, the NBA was at its peak in popularity

Posted by: wfnc2377 | Jun 16, 2009 7:21:23 PM

You could put MJ in shorts right now and he would take bryant to school any day of the week.MJ is the best all around basketball player in the history of the NBA.

Posted by: J.Maples | Jun 18, 2009 8:08:08 PM

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