Kobe Bryant announced Sunday that he’s retiring after this season. That of course means it’s time for a Kobe Bryant Roundtable! Today’s Fastbreak managing editor Jason Patt got together with some contributors who hold Kobe near and dear to their hearts to talk about his career.
Jason: So Kobe has officially confirmed what many suspected: he’ll retire after this season. Considering how he and the Lakers look this season, this is no surprise, but let’s not focus on the sadness that is Kobe right now. Let’s talk about what made him so great. How will you remember Kobe Bean Bryant?
Tyriq Butler: Kobe Bryant is the best player I’ve ever seen play basketball (live). I’ve only seen tape of MJ, Kareem and Wilt. In my mind, it’s a shame that these last few seasons are going to usurp what he’s been over the course of a HOF, illustrious career. People always remember the lasting image — but Kobe Bryant is a five-time champion and one of the best one-on-one players in the history of game. He had an unparalleled drive to be great and a winner.
The injuries and old age got to him, but we must remember him for what he was, and that’s an all-time great player. I think the second-best guard of all-time. That’s right, better than Magic. He played both ends of the floor and unfortunately endured chaos and ineptitude in his Lakers tenure. But through it all, he proved to be the best of my generation, and it’s a shame to see him go.
Kendrick Johnson: What’s made Kobe Bryant so amazing is his obsession for greatness. What player in the history of the NBA has averaged 28.5 PPG as a second option and been told not to score so much to fit into the team concept? I’ll remember Kobe as the best player I’ve seen up until this point, and simply as a great competitor. I’m truly going to miss riding on the magic carpet while watching him repeatedly find ways to win games by making difficult shots for anyone else but him.
Jonathan Asaad: I’m sure many fans my age feel the same way, but if it weren’t for Kobe Bryant, I probably wouldn’t be into basketball. One night when I was in fifth grade, Kobe hit two off-balance, impossible buzzer-beaters from beyond the arc over the outstretched arms of multiple defenders in the final seconds of a game in Portland. One was to send the game into overtime, the other was for the win. Mesmerized, I was hardly able to go to sleep after what I had just witnessed.
His calm demeanor in pressure situations was fascinating to watch, as were his electrifying scoring displays. Other than Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, Kobe nearly defied the belief that it takes a team to win games. Not many players can say they’ve scored 81 points in a single game, single-handedly outscored an entire Dallas Mavericks team through three quarters with 62 points and scored 50 or more points in four straight games. The man knew how to put on a show, so it’s fitting that he’s spent his entire career and thrived under the bright lights of Los Angeles. Although his game consisted of much more, Kobe is the greatest scorer I’ve ever seen.
Jason: As a Bulls fan, I’m obviously partial to MJ and don’t have the same invested in Kobe as you guys do. But even with how everything has ended with him, he still must be remembered as one of the all-time greats. People like to compare him to Jordan, and while MJ was better, Kobe is MJ-lite. There are so many things similar about them, all the way down to the “Dear Basketball” in their farewell letters. It’s definitely not a stretch to say Kobe is the second-best shooting guard ever.
Now, there are so many great moments to choose from, but what’s your favorite Kobe moment ever? 81-point game? A specific championship? Something else?
Jonathan: My favorite Kobe Bryant moment is when he stepped to the foul line and sunk two free throws after tearing his Achilles. It was illustrative of his mental toughness and unparalleled commitment to the game. That year, Kobe carried the team on his back and relentlessly willed the shipwrecked Lakers back into the playoff picture. He was 34 years old, yet he had the most efficient season of his career and showed fans flashbacks of his young self by posterizing various opponents with vicious dunks. Furthermore, Bryant showcased a dazzling passing display in the second half of the season, and he remarkably compiled 40+ points and 10+ assists in back-to-back games for the first time in his career (being the first player to accomplish this since Michael Jordan in 1989).
Indeed, at times Kobe Bryant has almost led his most loyal fans to believe that he’s immortal by seeming to defy human capabilities, but Kobe finally came back to earth, as his fate was decided during the final game of his season. He tore his Achilles. Somehow finding the strength to walk to the free throw line, sink his two free throws and walk back, Kobe waved off the help that Pau Gasol had offered him and strode with a limp toward the locker room. He had given the season his all and went until he literally could not anymore, yet Kobe surprisingly still took the time after the game to talk to reporters, holding back tears. All his preparation and hard work seemed to have gone out the window and there was nothing he could do about it. For all his heroics, the human side of Kobe finally revealed itself.
Kendrick: My favorite Kobe moment has to be him going back-to-back without Shaq. Just being a fan it bothered me when people kept saying he couldn’t win without Shaq, so I know it bothered him.
After watching the Celtics punk the Lakers in 2008, it was poetic justice to watch a Kobe-led group of Lakers take home a Game 7 victory over the same Celtics two years later and complete the back-to-back titles without Shaq while giving him one more ring than the big fella. I just remember (besides counting my money from my winnings) feeling justified that by beating the Celtics in a classic series and going back-to-back as the alpha dog, Kobe officially became the greatest Laker of all time.
Honorable mentions on my list are of course the 81 and 63-point games, the four-game 50-point scoring binge and the buzzer-beater off one leg over Dwyane Wade. Not only was it a hell of a shot, but it signified the Lakers were legit that season, and Kobe would go on to lead them to the title for ring No. 4.
With a player as great as Kobe, it’s impossible to pick one memory when you need a top 10 list to do him some justice.
Tyriq: Definitely his fourth ring, with the fifth as a close second. He dominated in the WCF series against Denver in 2009. And then the attitude he had in the Finals — he said he wasn’t going to smile or laugh. He was so close to the finish line, he had to just be serious. They said he couldn’t win without Shaq and then he did. Then beating Boston and getting revenge for the woeful 2008 finish.
But I do want to point this out…the media has treated Kobe so poorly this year. Yes, he’s been bad. He’s been awful. But it’s all people are talking about. It’s spoken about ad nauseam. Is he shooting great? No. Is he playing well? No. But do we have to talk about that and slam him every single day? Do we have to sit there and tweet out these numbers to support that premise everyday? I don’t think so. I’m not saying this just because he’s my favorite player — it’s actually because it’s just incredible how much his career is being tarnished because of the media. Don’t believe what I’m saying? Ask KD — he has excellent quotes about it. This man is 37 years old and has played 20 seasons — we get it, he’s washed, it’s over. But the slamming and berating is just insane to me.
Jason: Would rather not focus too much on Bad Kobe, ha, but I’m curious how you think the media should cover Kobe right now? It’s the media’s job to be objective, and Kobe is objectively terrible right now and putting forth a historically bad season. It’s hard to sugarcoat that without coming off as completely fake. And he’s bringing it on himself by firing away relentlessly after he talked multiple times about taking more of a backseat this season. There will be plenty of time for Kobe love.
Tyriq: Objectivity is fine, but the constant bashing is overboard. The reality of the situation is that it’s his final season and he’s going out firing. The game he’s loved so much and been so passionate about is escaping him and he’s hanging it up. He isn’t good right now nor should he be praised for this year, but it surely does feel like the frenzy is tarnishing his career.
Jonathan: I don’t have a problem with the media bashing Kobe for his play. He’s admittedly been awful, and Kobe himself has admitted as much. I think it would be fair, however, if the media didn’t take the easy way out and simply attribute Bryant’s awful performances to “he doesn’t know any other way but to shoot!” Kobe is definitely at fault for continuing to hoist jumpers, but I don’t think it’s widely recognized how difficult it is for a player to just flip a switch and accept mediocrity after being the NBA’s biggest superstar and the greatest thing since Michael Jordan.
Another thing that goes under the radar is the fact that the Lakers organization is enabling Bryant to play the way he is. They granted him $48.5 million after tearing his Achilles because they know that Bryant will return all that money and more to the organization by simply being on the court. The more Kobe plays, the more fans will tune in on TV and pay for tickets. It’s interesting to think about how different Kobe would play if he were in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich. Kobe should take responsibility for his performance, and the criticisms are warranted, but it should be taken into consideration that the Lakers want Kobe to just be himself and bring in money.
Kendrick: The media should be fair when it comes to covering Kobe. But what they fail to do is compare what he’s doing to what other players did or are doing at this point in their careers, and telling both sides of the coin.
We all know how bad the Lakers are this year and how many minutes a game he’s playing when he suits up. If you compare that to players like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, who are all in similar situations, the only one in my opinion remotely excelling in the twilight of their career is Nowitzki.
He’s still the best player for a playoff-caliber team, while Kobe is obviously struggling, and Garnett and Duncan are bit players with Garnett’s team being extremely young while Duncan’s is championship caliber.
The media fails to consistently acknowledge how much Kobe’s injuries over the last two and a half seasons have slowed him down. The season he tore his Achilles, Kobe averaged a league-high 38.6 MPG and 27.3 PPG at 34 years of age.
Unfortunately for him and all Lakers fans, “Father Time” pays you back for doing things like that at an advanced age, and it’s finally his time to pay the piper.
Tyriq: The media coverage hasn’t been good at all. The slander is unnecessary. I wish he actually had a team around him. It would’ve been really interesting to see how he would’ve adapted with a competent bunch around him and in the front office.
Jason: I definitely wouldn’t call Duncan a “bit” player. He’s still extremely effective in his old age. But Duncan is insane and the Spurs have done whatever they can to keep him healthy.
Kendrick: I’m saying Tim Duncan isn’t the same when you compare him to himself, and he also looks better because he’s playing on a championship-caliber team. Put him on the Orlando Magic or New Orleans Pelicans, and tell me how good he’d look.
Tyriq: Anyway, back to good Kobe. As I mentioned, his last two rings were the most special. In terms of individual performance, the 81-point game has to be at the top of the list, but I could argue his Game 7 against the Celtics in 2010 was the pinnacle. Didn’t shoot well but rebounded and defended well. And hit a big shot in the waning minutes. After that, his career kind of went downhill.
Jason: Yeah, that 2010 title, and both those later titles without Shaq really, had to be especially sweet. Can’t argue with that.
Now, where would you guys put Kobe in terms of the all-time greats. As mentioned, it seems like there’s a consensus that he’s the second-best shooting guard behind MJ, and I have no issue saying that. But what about overall?
Kendrick: To me, comparing Kobe to MJ is like apple and oranges and is all about what your taste is.
Regardless of who you have as the better shooting guard, one thing I know for certain is that if I’m picking my all-time starting five, I got to have Kobe Bean Bryant in the lineup. Besides being a five-time champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kobe has been named First Team All-NBA 11 times in his career, along with nine First Team All-Defensive selections.
Please remember these facts: Kobe is the only player since 1964 to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor as the only players ever to do so. Also, for the month of January in 2006, Bryant averaged 43.4 points per game, the eighth-highest single-month scoring average in NBA history, and highest for any player other than Chamberlain.
These two feats are something not even MJ did.
For my money, Kobe’s the best pound-for-pound player of all time because he dominated on both ends of the court. If he’s not at least in your top five, I’ll ask you these two simple questions.
1. We know how many people he dominated on both ends of the court, but how many people dominated him when he was in his prime?
2. In the history of basketball, what second option ever averaged over 28 points and almost won the scoring title while being touted as a second fiddle for a championship contending team:
I rest my case.
Tyriq: I think it’s so tough to have this conversation because there’s so many different eras and it’s hard to compare big men to guards. But in my honest opinion, he’s top five ever. I thought he was well on his way to being the second-best player of all time had he not gotten hurt. It was mentioned that he averaged 27.4 PPG prior to tearing his Achilles. The Lakers started that season 17-25 and looked dead in the water, but led by Bryant, they made the playoffs.
I would say top five of all time, right up there with MJ, Kareem, Magic….and LeBron at the end of his career will be there as well. I would say Kobe is the greatest Laker of all time, which means I think he’s better than Magic. Kareem played in LA, but also spent time in MIL. So the order is tough, but I would put him up there with those luminaries.
Jonathan: I’m fine with people putting Kobe anywhere in the top 10, but for me, I’m putting Kobe at No. 5 for two main reasons.
Every player, even the superstars of the league and Olympic trainers, who see Bryant train are blown away by his seemingly unheard of work ethic. Phil Jackson in his latest book said that Bryant was more committed to his craft than the greatest player to ever live, Michael Jordan. That, to me, is incredibly praiseworthy.
Also, Bryant oftentimes is wrongly accused of being a cheap imitation of Jordan. After Jordan retired, many upcoming basketball players were dubbed as “the next MJ.” However, none of them have come nearly as close as Kobe has to being like Mike, and Bryant is the only one who still drew the Jordan comparisons 20 years into his career. It’s cliche, but to be the best you have to learn from the best, and this scrupulous perfectionist took that saying to a whole new stratosphere. As a result, prime Kobe incorporated every facet of the game into his own. He perfected his post game under Hakeem’s tutelage, was an extremely underrated facilitator, was a solid defender and obviously was a world-class scorer.
The biggest knock on Kobe is his ball-hogging tendencies. In his documentary, Kobe explained how he learned to rely on himself at a young age since he was always moving and was unable to make and keep friends. It’s true that Bryant’s self-reliance has translated to his basketball game, as he occasionally trusts himself to hit a contested fadeaway over two defenders instead of his teammates hitting a semi-open shot.
But given his excellent footwork, Bryant became known as the league’s greatest at hitting impossible shots. Even still, Bryant has been an efficient scorer throughout his career despite popular belief, as he’s maintained a career 55 percent true shooting percentage. It isn’t flashy, but Kobe’s career 45 percent from the field is impressive given his shot selection. I’m of the belief that LeBron would be a career 35 percent shooter had he taken the shots that Kobe routinely put up.
Finally, the main objective of basketball is to score points and win championships, and from that standpoint, Bryant simply got the job done. Five rings, 30K points, and the first player to ever tally 30K points, 6K rebounds and 6K assists to boot.
Jason: Kobe’s ability to hit tough shots certainly was both a blessing and a curse. Throughout his career he was one of the best tough shot-makers in the league, but that’s abandoned him over the last few years thanks to age and injury, and now we see the result.
I’m not sure I can put Kobe top five all time, but I’d probably be comfortable putting him top 10. It’s so difficult to truly rank these guys because of different eras and positions, but he’s obviously one of the all-time greats, and he’ll be missed.