…in which we discuss Kobe Bryant’s greatness, through the words and opinions and clever turns of phrase of men who never heard of Kobe Bryant, because they’re dead, and mostly have been since long before basketball was a thing that existed; but, as these were clearly smart and opinionated guys, and as some of the smarter and more opinionated guys I’ve met in my life watch basketball, this method of observing Kobe Bryant’s greatness seems right and just, if not in fact infallible.
The fact that their definitions of greatness differ wildly is beside the point. And at least half the fun.
And: Because no matter how tedious this might turn out, writing about the things Kobe has done and still can do on the basketball court would be infinitely more tedious. You know. You’ve seen it. There are no secrets. There is nothing left to know.
Plus, quotes from famous dead guys fill space.
“It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man and the security of a god.” —Lucius Annaeus Seneca
What Lou Seems to be Saying: That we humans are defined by our faults and weaknesses, and that those among us who rise to places of prominence and accomplish significant things do so with an almost super-human confidence that defies the very faults and weaknesses that define us. This is as close as any of us will ever get to immortality.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 124%
“Goodness does not consist in greatness, but greatness in goodness.” —Athenaeus
What Athenaeus Seems to be Saying: Admitting that he’s a socialist pansy is what.
Perhaps that’s harsh. Regardless, having watched Kobe adopt his focused-guy/meanie face en route to leading a team that was finally, indisputable his to the NBA title last season, it seems he has lifted one more tainted page from MJ’s book. And it worked, so why not? He’s got the offseason to be “good.” The season is for motherf*cking your way to the Larry O’Brien.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 17%
“Great and good are seldom the same man.” —Winston Churchill
What Winston Seems to be Saying: Athenaeus was a chump.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: Exactly 50%
“Great men never make bad use of their superiority. They see it and feel it and are not less modest.” —Jean Jacques Rousseau
What Jean Jacques Seems to be Saying: That he was Swiss, and as such, doesn’t know sh*t about the art of war or the game of basketball.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 8%
“You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” —James Allen
What Jim Seems to be Saying: Keep it in your pants, dummy.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 91%
“The herd seek out the great, not for their sake, but for their influence; and the great welcome them out of vanity or need.” —Napoleon Bonaparte
What Napoleon Seems to be Saying: Riding or dying with a guy you’ve never met and probably never will, and who mostly likely wouldn’t give a sh*t about you if you did, is stupid. As such, this reflects more on the herd than the great one, and the individual in question can only be blamed so much. Especially if he’s got a Nike deal. Herds buy shoes, too.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 63% (Note: Accuracy as a Description of LeBron James’ Greatness: 64%)
“No one ever became great by imitation.” —Samuel Johnson
What Sam Seems to be Saying: “Be Like Mike” was just a marketing slogan. You weren’t actually supposed to try.
That said, if you manage to pull it off…
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 2%
“He is great who is what he is from nature, and who never reminds us of others.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
What Ralph Seems to be Saying: Pretty much what Sam Johnson was saying a minute ago.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 1.9%
“To be great is to be misunderstood.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
What Ralph Seems to be Saying: I think I’m paraphrasing Russ (though he may have been paraphrasing me paraphrasing him first), but I don’t think Kobe even understands Kobe.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 439%
“No great man ever complains of want of opportunity.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
What Ralph Seems to be Saying: Nobody likes a whiner.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: –99%
“A great thing can only be done by a great person. And they do it without effort.” —John Ruskin
What John Seems to be Saying: Assuming he means the great ones make it look easy…
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 87%
“There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.” —Gilbert Keith Chesterton
What Gil Seems to be Saying: This is probably why LeBron got more votes than you.
Accuracy as a Description of Kobe Bryant’s Greatness: 99.8%
The lesson? Greatness is hard to define. And so is Kobe.
Thanks for your time. Feedback, as always, is welcome.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.