1. Kobe Bryant

by November 16, 2006

With summer dragging on and on and on before the NBA tips off, we’ve decided to initiate a multipart series that will be the definitive look at the best players in the NBA today.

Over lunch at the Outback Steakhouse (word to Steve Irwin), your crack SLAMonline.com staff sat down and ranked the 50 best players in the NBA today. We realize that’s kind of ambiguous, but that’s how basketball is and that’s how we like it. Basically, though, we tried to list the 50 guys we think have the most value to their teams, right now, at this moment. This doesn’t mean they’ll never be traded, and it doesn’t mean they’re due tremendous contract extensions, but it does mean — since value is king in the NBA — that over the next month or so we’ll run down the 50 guys that we think are the 50 best players, right here, right now.

Before long it’ll be time for our annual NBA team previews. Right now it’s time for some law and order…

1. Kobe Bryant

By Khalid Salaam

8. 24. 23, 5 and 4 per. 81 points. Last year scored 35 per on 45 percent shooting. 3 rings. All Defensive team six times. 62 points in 33 minutes against Dallas. Voted at age 19 as a starter in the ’98 All-Star Game. Averaged 40 points in Feb ’03, one of only 3 people to ever avg 40 in a month. You get the point don’t you? Hope so because numbers-wise I could go on for two or three more paragraphs. But the reason why Kobe is hands down the best player in the League (and has been for about 3 seasons now and will be next year too btw) is because of his intangibles.

He is beyond clutch. Able to take the pressure of game deciding plays over and over again. He’ll take the shot and win it, get the steal, block the shot, snare the rebound or whatever. He’s as fundamentally sound as anyone in the game you just don’t think about it because he can do the supernatural stuff too. His game has no flaws. Dominant handle, legit post game, strong rebounder, makes easy shots and degree of difficulty on the regular. Over the last 5 years who has made more amazing plays? Just think for a minute. The up and under dunk against the Knicks at MSG three years ago, the crazy long buzzer beater against the Pistons in the ’04 Finals, the momentum carrying out-of-bounds but still able to get off a soft runner to win the game against the Suns last spring—what else do you want?

Oh wait there are about a hundred people who think it should be Bron right? Uh wrong. Yeah he has better shoes and LBJ is a supreme talent, a prodigy even. But so is Kobe. Remember he came outta high school too? As the first non-big man, remember that young’ns? Bron came to a perfect situation and was able to start and assert himself from day one. It was the Cavs after all. It’s Cleveland after all. No disrespect but Cleveland is always amongst the cities with the highest poverty rates, unemployment rates, etc. Put it like this. People in Detroit roll their eyes and say things like “hell no I would never move there, Cleveland is dangerous as a mf.” So LeBron’s ascension to greatness was unimpeded. They practically gave him the key to the city. Kobe on the other hand had to earn his way onto a veteran Lakers team. Eddie Jones was there, Cedric Ceballos, Nick at Nite, Byron Scott and of course Shaq. The LCL signed in the off-season and came with fanfare as a/the franchise player. Shaq was named to the all-time 50 greatest team during the All-Star Game. This was not the ideal situation by any means. The Lakers had eclipsed the 50-win mark the season before and were poised to do it again. They were a contender. Not to mention Magic’s shadow was looming, LA has no football team to deflect attention, the Clippers really sucked back then and Hollywood stars and faux stars crowd games as if their life depends on it. So here comes this skinny kid from the East Coast with arrogance only matched by his talent. He averaged 7 points in 15 minutes a game in his rookie year and the next year he brought his playing time up to 26 mins per. Not because they didn’t have options, not because they were a young rebuilding team, not because of anything. Only because it was apparent that this Kobe Bryant guy was and still is a transcendent talent.

Also kill all the hate about Kobe pushing Shaq out. It was a mutual thing, they both contributed to it. And on the real Shaq started it more times than not. Yeah maybe they could have won a few more rings but they did get 3 after all. But oh well its behind us now. All non-Laker fans let it go please (and even Laker fans too. Its not like you guys don’t have championship memories that go back generations. Stop whining.) And no he didn’t quit last year, he just probably got tired of the hating. Can’t win either way so what the hell. Crazy yes. Acceptable, no. But do i get the reason why? yes i do. It was a big middle finger to the media and fans who criticize him for everything. They were overmatched anyway and went as far as they could last year. It was awesome if only for its defiance.

In closing until Wade or Lebron actually start defending on a regular I won’t even have this convo anymore. Also I didn’t forget to mention the Colorado incident or Kobe’s off-court image problems or any of the extra stuff. I didn’t forget, I just don’t care right. This is about who the best PLAYER is. Nothing else. Overstand?