by Myles Brown/@mdotbrown
2002-03: Scored 40+ points in 9 consecutive games and averaged 40.6 PPG in February.
2005-06: Scored 62 points in 3 quarters against Dallas, the only time in the shot clock era one player has outscored an entire team.
Scored 81 points versus Toronto, the non-Wilt record for a single game.
Scored 45 + points in four consecutive games, the first occurrence since 1964. Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor are the only other players to do so.
Averaged 43.4 PPG in January, the eighth highest total in league history and the non-Wilt record.
2006-07: 4 consecutive-and ten total-50+ point games, both non-Wilt records.
2008-09: Scored 61 points in Madison Square Garden on 61 percent shooting, highest total in the stadium’s history.
Honestly, are there even any other candidates?
Shaquille O’Neal as we knew him faded away in 2005 and Steve Nash as we know him didn’t arrive until then. Unfortunately LeBron James was drafted four years too late for this discussion and Allen Iverson…well, don’t get me started on Allen Iverson.
Kobe Bryant became the greatest offensive player of this decade by mastering the fundamentals and principles of basketball. The aesthetic appeal of his scoring is not in its flash and flare, but in its sheer brilliance. While his remarkable athleticism was an advantage, it was also merely the complement to a completely sound game honed through a tireless work ethic. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to estimate that practically every shot of his that leaves your mouth agape is one he’s taken more than a thousand times. He can score from anywhere on the floor under any circumstances and is a criminally underrated distributor. Best offensive player of the decade? Psssh. The question should be whether he’s the best offensive player ever.
And to think that it all began like this…
While the mention of Michael Jordan’s mantra, ‘I can’t accept not trying’ has certainly become cliched, it was was apt nonetheless. Both in this situation and almost any other regarding Kobe’s scoring mentality. Shaq acknowledged that the 18 year old Bryant was the only Laker with the ‘guts to take those shots’ on that fateful evening in Utah and it is worth noting that such failures have crippled the confidence of countless others.
But to some, despite his growth, this was an early indication of his Achilles heel . To some, despite proving himself to be an uncontainable offensive force, Kobe Bryant limited himself with his uncontainable ego. Much was made of his indomitable will, but that will is also what drove him into triple teams and turnovers. To some, his need for personal glory superseded what was required for team success.
However the fact of the matter is that he is capable of things most cannot even imagine, much less accomplish. Can you blame him for trusting himself more than his teammates? Well, in some instances, yes. His shameless performance in the 2004 NBA Finals cost the Lakers a ring and the ensuing fallout has been well documented. His epic scoring binges while seemingly necessary, were not always conducive to the development of his teammates. Instead of empowering them, his greatness was a repellent. Whether he-and Phil-were right or not, his play clearly stated that no one else was worth sharing the ball with.
Now that the burden has been lightened and he’s back to his winning ways, these arguments may not be as prevalent, but the divide remains. For every fan who incredulously exclaims ‘How did he make that?’ there is a critic wondering ‘Why didn’t he pass it?’. Of course a host of other issues have contributed to his likability-or lack thereof-that influence our perception of his decision making, but ultimately the only thing that matters is that we all watch.
Because like it or not, when it comes to putting the ball in the basket, no one has been better than Kobe Bryant.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.