Kobe Bryant won title number five Thursday night as the Lakers edged out the Celtics in Game 7 83-79. Where now does he rank all-time among the NBA’s greats?
Well, for starters, he went 6 for 24 tonight in a Game 7 of the Finals. That’s a little underwhelming don’t you think? Certainly nothing we’d expect from Michael Jordan if he’d ever even forced himself to go to a Game 7.
Bryant now has five rings and two Finals MVP Awards. Well, that certainly does not beat Jordan, who had six championships in an eight year span and won a record six Finals MVP Awards. Kobe is now 5-2 in the Finals. When he wins another four Finals MVP’s, we can put him up there with Jordan.
Until then, that argument is foolish, especially when you compare the raw statistics which greatly favor His Airness. Oh, and Jordan faced murderous defenses in the ’80s and ’90s getting to the Finals. Not nearly that tough in this decade, but that is not something Kobe can control, so it’s more of an argument in favor of MJ than against Bryant. Better than Jordan, nope. Next…
Is he the greatest Laker ever? He has likely surpassed Jerry West and maybe Elgin Baylor, but now you run into Kareem and Magic. Kareem won five titles with the Lakers and the 1985 Finals MVP. However, Kareem is the number one scorer ever, and probably the best big man in history. He also delivered during those ’80s Celtics-Lakers glory days when the games were slug fests. If not for Magic and James Worthy, he’d have a few more Finals MVP Awards.
Kobe vs. Magic. No contest. Magic Johnson wrapped up the title of Greatest Laker over a decade ago. As a rookie, he came into the 1980 NBA Finals and won it without Kareem in the last game, playing all five positions and putting up 42,15 and 7. As a rookie. That is probably the greatest playoff performance ever, barring some of Jordan’s legendary performances, such as the Flu Game. Magic also won five rings, but against much tougher competition in the 1980s. And, of course, there’s the legendary junior hook shot he hit to win Game 4 in the 1987 Finals in Boston. Magic is in the top three of all-time. Kobe is just not there yet. He hasn’t had that signature moment in the Finals. Oh, and there’s Shaq who is the reason Kobe has three of his rings with his near 40 and 20 averages in the 2000-2002 NBA Finals.
So, where does Bryant rank all-time? Top 20? No question. Top 10? Possibly. Top 5? Nope.
For those of us who actually are old enough to remember when Jordan played, and the impact he had on the league and popular culture in general, or for those old enough to remember how Magic and Bird saved the NBA in the ’80s, to put Kobe up there is just a bit much.
In the end, the best thing to do is to stop forcing the comparisons with the legends and let Kobe be Kobe. His legacy speaks for itself.
But, in all honesty, if you hear somebody claim Kobe is better than the players above, it is likely because they are very young, or have no appreciation for the history of the sport. A true fan knows the history of the game, or, at the very least, the history of their team.
“Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers – Box Score – June 17, 2010”, ESPN
Basketball-Reference: Michael Jordan
Basketball-Reference: Magic Johnson
Basketball-Reference: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Basketball-Reference: Shaquille O’Neal