The storyline that began about 5 milliseconds after the Lakers/Magic series concluded in five games was Kobe's place in history. Kobe Bryant now has a championship sans Shaquille O'Neal. He's now a 4-time NBA champion (something even Larry Bird cannot claim). In the last 2 years, Kobe has been named MVP, won a gold freakin' medal, and now the Larry O'Brien trophy - bookended with a Finals MVP award.
Of course, Kobe Bryant is the most polarizing athlete of our time. The mere mention of his name is the spark to an inevitable argument.
Today's argument? Is Kobe Bryant a top-10 player in the history of basketball?
Not that my opinion would surprise anyone here, but the answer is YES. Furthermore, Kobe was already a top-10 player long before the 2009 season. Winning the fourth championship is nice and all... it even removes a few figurative monkeys from his back. But Kobe's legacy was secured a long time ago. He has been in the NBA for 13 years now, and has been an elite player for more than a decade. Not even Michael Jordan can make that claim given that he burned out and had to take a two year
gambling baseball sabbatical.
Given the nature of the sports media these days, it's sad to think that Kobe Bryant will not truly be appreciated until after he retires. He's despised by so many for having the temerity to be nearly as good as Michael Jordan. There's no doubt Kobe copied not only his game, but many of his mannerisms from Jordan. Then again, if you're going to plagiarize, you might as well steal from the best. (The ironic part of all of this is that Jordan was viewed by the public just like Kobe was until 1993 when he first retired. Don't forget that Jordan was originally deemed a selfish scorer who did not get along with teammates and was often moody. Simply put, Jordan was an asshole... and we only appreciated him when he wasn't around anymore. The same will be said of Kobe.)
Of course, since this is a sports blog and it's still part of the Internet, this debate is hollow without a list of some sort. Which means this is all a long-winded setup for me to share my Top 10 All-Time Basketball Players (with a heavy emphasis on NBA contributions):
1. Michael Jordan. There's a reason Kobe wants to be like him. No shame in that. Jordan was the Man.
2. Wilt Chamberlain. The greatest physical specimen the league had ever seen until Shaquille O'Neal came along. Unlike the Fat Ass, however, Wilt actually worked on his game and did not rely solely on his god-given talent. The most amazing statistic of all time is that Wilt once played EVERY minute of EVERY game in one season. I'd like to see Shaquille O'Neal even attempt to play 48 minutes in back-to-back games without having a heart attack.
3. Magic Johnson. For ten years, Magic was the king of the NBA. Even Jordan took a backseat to Magic until that pesky HIV virus found its way into Earvin's bloodstream. I still feel cheated that we did not get another five years of a healthy Magic Johnson running the point. He was that good.
4. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. As Simmons likes to say, Kareem was a ninny. He was. But he is also the NBA's all-time scoring leader, with more MVP awards than anyone in history (including that Jordan guy). Magic won all of his rings with Kareem... they boosted each other's games in ways Shaq and Kobe could only have dreamed of.
5. Tim Duncan. Simply put - the greatest power forward of all-time. And there really isn't a legit competitor to this title. Anyone who even mentions "Karl Malone" gets punched in the nuts for being dumb. Timmy has 3.5 rings (the 1999 season does not count), multiple MVP awards and if you look at Duncan's 2003 supporting cast, you'd be amazed how that team won the championship that year.
6. Kobe Bryant. Yes, I'm putting him ahead of Larry Bird. Kobe was a better scorer and a better defender than Larry Bird. Bryant -- like Jordan -- can lock down most any opponent on the defensive end while still being the primary option on the offensive end. 4 rings, including three while carrying the Fat Ass on his back. One MVP award even though the media does not like him that much. Just look at the 2008 U.S. Men's Olympic Team... when the personalities of LeBron and Dwyane Wade defer to Kobe, that speaks volumes.
7. Larry Bird. The purest shooter the NBA has ever seen. Could also rebound in traffic and had court vision that may have only been matched by Magic Johnson. Unfortunately, Bird's back gave out too early and his peak years were reduced from what they could have been. Imagine if Bird had a healthy back and Magic decided to wrap it up during orgys. The early 1990s of the NBA could have been even greater (and MJ might have less rings).
8. Hakeem Olajuwon. Yes, you are reading that right. Hakeem belongs on this list ahead of Shaquille. And don't give me that crap about "Olajuwon won his rings only because Jordan was not there." The Rockets of the early 1990s ownedthe Jordan-era Bulls. If Kenny Smith had made a freakin' jump shot against Seattle in 1993, the Finals would have been Jordan v. Hakeem. And Hakeem would have won. Olajuwon is amazingly underrated by this point. He redefined how to play the center position and you will never see another player like him.
9. Jerry West. On the list of "best shooting guards" West was number one until Jordan and Kobe came along. The Logo unfortunately had to play against the Celtics in an era when the Celtics stockpiled all of the talent in a 10-12 team league and only won one championship ring. Do not let that detract from how amazing Jerry West was. Just take a look at his statistics. They are ridiculous.
10. Oscar Robertson. He's low on this list simply because many of his statistics are improperly inflated given the era he was in. The triple double for a whole season is nice, but most teams scored in the 120s and 130s in that era. Which allows for lots of points, rebounds and assists as a byproduct. Also, the Big O is only temporarily holding this spot in line for a few more years until LeBron's stats become truly insane and historic.
Bob Cousy, John Havlicek,
Robert Horry, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Dr. J and the Fat Ass.
The mere fact that Shaquille O'Neal isn't the greatest player in the history of the NBA is a disappointment. The fact that he's not even in the top 10 all-time is a travesty. And a waste of talent. It's downright shameful. Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, has maximized every bit of athletic ability and basketball IQ. It's what puts him among the greatest of the great. When his career is over, Kobe Bryant might be in the top 3. And people will still hate him. It's unfortunate.
FOLLOW UP: I know the real reaction is "Where is Bill Russell?" or "Where is Player X?". Let's start with Bill Russell. Yeah, I know he won 11 rings. So the F what. He won rings in an era when there were only 8 teams in the entire NBA. 8 teams. And he had 5 other hall of famers on his team. If he won less than 11 rings, Bill Russell should have been deemed a failure! Furthermore, we rip on so many players for not playing defense... for not playing on both sides of the court. Meanwhile, there's Russell, who in an era when teams scored more points than ever before somehow only managed to average 15.1 points per game for his career. And while 15.1 points a game is nothing to scoff at, it *is* enough to keep him out of the top 10. Especially if you adjust for the era he was in.
This might be another topic for another time, but Bill Russell might be the most overrated player of all time. I'm sure Scottie Pippen will be happy to know that I no longer think that title belongs to him.