Kobe Bryant, the future Hall-of-Famer who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA Championships over his 20-year tenure, announced Sunday on The Player’s Tribune Website that he will retire at the end of the season.
Bryant’s announcement obviously had a monumental impact on the NBA community. He was the Michael Jordan of his generation. He is one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball. However, like every former great, Bryant lost his final game to father time.
Bryant is obviously a first ballot Hall of Famer, but is he a top-10 player? He never quite reached the Jordan plateau. He finished with five rings and one MVP to Jordan’s six rings and six MVP’s. He will probably go down as the second greatest shooting guard in the history of the game. But where does that leave him in the all-time argument?
Frankly, despite his talents and accolades, Bryant does not deserve to be in the top-five. These spots are currently occupied by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in no particular order.
Abdul-Jabbar had the most unstoppable shot in the history of the game to go along with his six championships. Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds in 1961-62. Bird and Magic were simply much better all around basketball players than Bryant. They could rebound, pass, steal, and play defense. Hell, Johnson could guard positions 1-5 on the court. He filled in at center for Abdul-Jabbar as a rookie in the 1980 NBA Finals. He dropped 42 points and 15 rebounds on the Sixers to clinch his first NBA title.
So if the top-five is out, what about the bottom-five? It is up in the air from here. The bottom five includes players like LeBron James (active), Tim Duncan (active), Oscar Robertson, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, and Kobe Bryant. However as you can see, there are six names, so who is out?
Frankly it should be Bryant, despite what the younger generation has to say. Duncan has five NBA Championships, he the best power forward of all time, and he is a much better player to build a team around. Russell is the greatest champion of all-time. He won 11 rings in 13 years with the Boston Celtics. It would be hard to bump him from the list. Robertson averaged a triple double for a season, and he statistically had a slightly better career than Bryant across the board.
So that leaves Bryant’s partner in crime, O’Neal, and the current best player in the world, James. Most people would agree that Bryant would only have two titles if it was not for O’Neal during those early years. He was the most dominant force on the planet for a four-year span in the early 2000s. He was batman on that team. He should get the nod over Bryant.
So that leaves the four-time MVP, James. Should he earn a spot over Bryant in the top-ten list? Unlike other players on the list, James only has two titles. However he is still in the prime of his career. He has five to six years to chase Bryant in the title game.
The argument for James, however, is that like Bird and Magic, he is a better all around basketball player. He can do anything on a basketball court. The only advantage Bryant has is his jump shot. Bryant is obviously more dangerous from the perimeter and at the end of games than James. However, James is still the better basketball player.
Titles may or may not come, but he is the guy that you want for the first 46 minutes. Bryant may be the clutch performer that you want in the final two, but he is not the guy you want for the entire game, not over James at least. If we were going by clutch shooters, Ray Allen would be the best player of all time. You have to think of the big picture.
So where does this leave Bryant? Well he is most likely sitting at either 11th or 12th, next to Julius Erving, Jerry West, or Elgin Baylor. Bryant was a stud on the court, one of the greatest of all time, but he is not top-10.
Eddie Leonard is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn men’s soccer. He tweets @EddieLeonard23.