Top 50: Kobe Bryant, no. 2

by October 23, 2010

When Ryne built this Top 50 list and assigned writers, Ryne, Lang and I—relatively absent in this top 50 while our great cast of part-timers and freelancers held us down—decided it would be cool if we wrote the Kobe and LeBron entries. But Lang had to go out of town this week and we suddenly needed a Kobe writer. Obviously plenty of the SLAMonline regulars can write about Kobe, but I know that because they’ve all done it. So I decided to offer this slot to a non-professional writer. A friend of mine, a L.A. native, a former high school standout and DI player who happens to be the most loyal Kobe fan I know. Jason Rowley. And while I disagree with his view of Kobe as No. 1, as you can see in my LeBron write up, I think my man JR did a nice job with this piece. If you want more from Jason, follow him on Twitter @MixedProjects and leave some nice comments. Maybe he’ll be back…—Ben Osborne

I am often amused when I hear people refer to LeBron James as The King. Of what? Cleveland? Have you ever heard of a King with no bling? He’s got no crown, and he moved to try and get a ring in someone else’s (Dwyane Wade’s) town. In my opinion, Kobe Bryant is way m
ore deserving of the “King” moniker than LeBron.

There is no perfect way to define the best player in a team sport. For better or worse, in choosing the best player, we often look for the individual who combines top-level skill, has the best stats, and leads his team to the most championships.

You might recall that when Kobe Bryant was 25 he, too, was a free agent. Unlike the big names in the Class of 2010, he already had three (championship) rings. Perhaps he considered moving to the Clippers, but never a new town. When you’re the best player, they come to you.

The coaches go to you, too. Just like Coach K did in the final minutes for the final shots in the fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal game against Spain. Players and fans know that if Kobe Bryant is on your team, especially when the game is on the line, the play gets drawn up for him. Why? Because he is the best player.

By the time he was 27, in 2005, Kobe had the best offensive skill set of any guard in the history of the League. I’d say it happened sometime before he dropped 81 on the Raptors, perhaps when he gave the Mavs 62 — in three quarters. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Kobe had 62 and the Mavericks (team) had 61. This was when the Lakers boasted such “talents” as Smush Parker, Devean George, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook and Chris Mihm, when a common but unfair knock on Kobe was that he didn’t make his teammates better. Do you know where those guys are now (without Kobe)? He has made the Double Nickel and 63 in the Boston Garden almost insignificant.

Now, just recently turned 32, Kobe has five rings. He has become a great teammate. He uses every competitive advantage possible, including speaking to his teammates in Spanish (Pau) and in Italian (Sasha) during games. Since that Gold Medal Game, he has won two consecutive NBA Championships (with a broken finger on his shooting hand and a bum knee, no less) and two NBA Finals MVPs. He is the best player on the best team in the League. That is beyond comparison.

Some argue that he is getting old, but at the same age Jordan had only three rings. And I’m pretty sure Kobe isn’t taking a break to play baseball anytime soon. Because he’s so fundamentally sound, and constantly adding new aspects to his game, Kobe has been able to dominate and will continue to do so, even as his spring and athleticism begins to wane. Five consecutive years on the First Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defensive Team doesn’t scream geriatric to me.

This is all stuff you probably already know, but would rather not admit. Just like years ago, back when people laughably tried to tell me that guys like T-Mac, Iverson and Vince were as good or better than Kobe, before people were willing to break the groupthink and admit that his talents deserved to be compared only to Jordan’s. When Kobe wins his sixth championship and passes MJ on the all-time scoring list (likely less than four years from now), it’ll be easier to admit.

When I hear or see someone say that a player other than Kobe Bryant is the best in the League, I want to ask, what else does Kobe have to do? I think the reason people (detractors) say that has to do with a dislike of his attitude and personality, particularly when he was younger, and the misconception that he was the problem that led Shaq out of town. But keep in mind, this criticism came way before we had the time and perspective to watch Kobe mature and see how Shaq leaves every team — and no one ever wants him back.

While Kobe meets all of the objective measures, he is also a player who exceeds expectations everyday — not once in awhile, but hour after hour, day after day, and in the midst of high expectations. Kobe wants it more than anyone else and constantly proves people wrong.

Think about how and when you first saw or heard about Kobe, before you started hating. He might have been taking Brandy, an R&B Star at the time, to the prom. Flexing in the dunk contest. Shooting air balls against the Jazz in the Playoffs. Getting sucker punched by a grown man (32-year-old Chris Childs) when he was 21. On trial in Eagle County.

Kobe’s is the story of a 6-6 guard who never got cut from his high school team. Instead, he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s state high school scoring record by scoring a total of 2,883 points. He outplayed all of his contemporaries and has amassed more rings than any of the other top players of his generation. He is already considered by many to be the greatest Laker ever. His motivation, clearly, has always been to achieve and surpass what anyone thought was expected.

“To be the best, you have to win… and that’s what drives me.” — Kobe Bryant

Recently, Kobe was asked who would win in a game of one-on-one between him and LeBron. In case you missed it, here was his response: “I’d win.”

Seems like LeBron agrees with me. You might have heard his response to a similar question as heard in a soundbite on Weezy’s song, “Kobe Bryant”:

“I’ve been quoted as saying Kobe is definitely the best player in our league…to me, in my eyes, the best scorer in our league, there’s not another guy in the League that can accomplish what he is doing…”

My point is that if you measure the best player by who would win in one-on-one, who wins the most games or titles, who scores the most, what he has already accomplished, proving haters and doubters wrong, by what the best coaches and players show and say, or exceeding expectations, it is clear that Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world. And it’s not even that close. (KD is on deck.)

Now, if you think the best player is simply the most dominant athlete — the guy who is the biggest, strongest and fastest — with the most future potential, then the best player in the League would be someone else: Dwight Howard.

Kobe’s unique drive and determination have taken him further than most people anticipated. Go ahead and compare him to, or rank him beneath someone else. Watch all the other All-Stars assembling like Voltron, come through to the Staples Center, see the guy who never left, and maybe kiss the real king’s rings.

To be the best player, you have to beat the best, and I think Kobe will be king for a while — no one has the combination of attributes to knock him off his throne anytime soon.

Player Team Position 2010 2009 2010 2009
Ray Allen Celtics SG 50 36 10 9
Gilbert Arenas Wizards SG 49 34 9 8
Lamar Odom Lakers PF 48 33 14 10
John Wall Wizards PG 47 NR 13 NR
OJ Mayo Grizzlies SG 46 46 8 12
Al Horford Hawks C 45 NR 6 NR
Jason Kidd Mavs PG 44 45 12 10
Joakim Noah Bulls C 43 NR 5 NR
LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 42 39 13 12
David West Hornets PF 41 31 12 8
Monta Ellis Warriors SG 40 NR 7 NR
Andrew Bogut Bucks C 39 NR 4 NR
Yao Ming Rockets C 38 NR 3 NR
Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 37 NR 11 NR
Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 36 NR 11 NR
Stephen Curry Warriors PG 35 NR 10 NR
David Lee Warriors PF 34 NR 10 NR
Brook Lopez Nets C 33 NR 2 NR
Gerald Wallace Bobcats SF 32 NR 7 NR
Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 31 29 6 7
Tony Parker Spurs PG 30 15 9 3
Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 29 13 9 3
Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 28 44 6 9
Josh Smith Hawks PF 27 40 8 13
Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 26 26 5 6
Al Jefferson Jazz PF 25 23 7 7
Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 24 NR 8 NR
Chauncey Billups Nuggets PG 23 19 7 5
Tyreke Evans Kings PG 22 NR 6 NR
Danny Granger Pacers SF 21 21 5 5
Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 20 32 6 9
Paul Pierce Celtics SF 19 17 4 4
Joe Johnson Hawks SG 18 20 4 4
Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 17 27 5 8
Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 16 16 5 6
Steve Nash Suns PG 15 22 4 6
Tim Duncan Spurs PF 14 6 4 1
Chris Bosh Heat PF 13 13 3 4
Derrick Rose Bulls PG 12 18 3 4
Brandon Roy Blazers SG 11 10 3 3
Pau Gasol Lakers PF 10 14 2 5
Dirk Nowiztki Mavs PF 9 9 1 2
Deron Williams Jazz PG 8 11 2 2
Chris Paul Hornets PG 7 4 1 1
Carmelo Anthony Nuggets SF 6 7 3 2
Dwight Howard Magic C 5 5 1 1
Dwyane Wade Heat SG 4 3 2 2
Kevin Durant Thunder SF 3 8 2 3
Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 2 2 1 1
LeBron James Heat SF 1 1 1 1

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.