Dirk Nowitzki

Final Thoughts on Phil Jackson’s Last Dance

The End of an Era?

Who is to blame for the Laker’s demise in 2011? Some will blame the Lakers’ failures on locker room divisiveness. Others will blame age or a lack of execution.

I know who I’m blaming:

Vanessa Bryant.

In addition to setting woman’s rights back 60 years by accepting a 5 million dollar “I really f’d up but the only reason I’m truly sorry is because I got caught” ring after publically forgiving her husband for philandering in 2003, and then setting women’s fashion back 30 years by publically donning those 35 year old leopard print one-pieces that we were all convinced had disappeared back in 1977, Vanessa Bryant also evidentially set Pau Gasol’s fragile psych back 28 years by encouraging his 21-year old fiancée to dump him prior to the beginning of the playoffs, resulting in an emotional checkout and complete disappearance by the supposed best low-post forward in the NBA.

Gasol looked like a shell of himself, heart broken in his personal life, and then proceeded to heart-break the Los Angeles Laker fans with an uninspired 4-game performance that lacked energy and resulted in poor play on both ends of the court. Gasol served as the primary reason for his team’s demise, and the Lakers will likely entertain trade offers during the offseason, but his 18.7 million dollar salary as well as the uncertainly surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement will undoubtedly serve as challenging obstacles.





 Phil Jackson

Now that the sun has set on Phil Jackson’s storied career,  most media enthusiasts, pundits, and basketball fans will remember him for his 11 NBA Championships, and 12 NBA Finals appearances during a marvelous 20-year run that was defined by multiple winning seasons. However, in my mind, Phil Jackson’s greatness was truly validated for the one year that he did not have a player named either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

Anyone who has read my posts knows that I am a strong believer in evaluating individual careers (both players and coaches) based on whether the individual makes the most of the talent/weapons provided to them, not whether or not they simply win championships. Phil Jackson won his 11 rings because he was supposed to have won those 11 rings – he had the best teams in the league during those specific seasons. However, his success in 1994 confirmed that he was not only a coach who won with great players, but one that could get the most out of the talent given to him, even if that talent was not championship caliber.

The 1993-94 Chicago Bulls began the season by losing the greatest player of all time to retirement, and battled skepticism from numerous naysayers who insisted that they would fail to make the playoffs. Instead, Phil Jackson led the Bulls to 55 wins, the #3 seed in the East, and one horrible Hue Hollins call away from making the NBA Finals. It was by far his greatest overachievement and proof that he was more than just a coach who benefitted from having 2 of the 5 best players on his team at a given time.





The Kobe Bryant Legacy

Can we all agree to officially put those ridiculous Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan comparisons to rest……. forever? Other than the Brown Mamba and select members of Kobe Nation, did anyone ever really think that this was a “discussion”?

Didn’t think so.

Michael Jordan was simply a more talented, athletic, and physically/mentally gifted basketball player than Kobe Bryant ever was. Jordan was also more statistically dominant in almost every category, demonstrated a higher level of clutchness, a stronger will to win, peaked higher during the prime of his career, dominated the league for a longer period of time, won more MVPs and accolades, and made a far bigger impact on the game.

Most importantly, what should not be overlooked is the winnability factor. Kobe Bryant could have won 8 championships and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The greatness of a player is not determined by ring counting (each of Top 10 Greatest of All-Time showed that they could win championships when provided with sufficient talent), but by their ability to maximize the opportunities given to them and make the most of their weapons available to them -whether it is winning a championship with a great supporting cast, or winning a 1st round playoff series as an underdog with a mediocre supporting cast – the goal is to mazimize winning with what you are given.

Michael Jordan dominated the teams he was supposed to dominate, never lost to a team he wasn’t supposed to lose to, always won a playoff series whenever his Bulls had home court advantage, and earlier in his career overachieved on multiple occasions by beating teams he had no business beating. Kobe Bryant on the other hand, while being blessed with more supporting talent than any other modern day player, has suffered  inexcusable playoff exits to the 2004 Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks, with this latest loss serving as another irrevocable stain on his resume.

With that said, the legacy of Kobe Bryant is still not complete and has room to grow. While he will never be the greatest of all time, and his push for Top 5 status is now in jeopardy, he is still nonetheless a Top 10 legend and his final standing on the GOAT list will remain undetermined for now.

After all, Kobe Bryant has repeatedly proven his ability to be resourceful against Father Time, but many questions still remain. Did Kobe Bryant grow older before our eyes during this recent playoff series? Or was he simply hampered by ongoing injuries? If the former, what can we expect next season when Bryant begins the playoffs closer to 34 years old? Should the Lakers continue to keep him as the primary focal point while tweaking a few parts through trades and free agent signings? Or should they begin running more of the offense through Andrew Bynum?

It will be an interesting summer in Lakerland.

Dirk’s Ghosts of Maverick’s Playoff Past Are Exorcised

Well, almost exorcised. Dirk will never be able to get rid of the stain of the 2006 NBA Finals when his team relinquished a 2-0 series lead to the Heat. He will also never be able to get rid of the even bigger stain when his 67 win Mavericks team lost to the 2007 Golden State Warriors. However, this recent underdog victory will always serve as a trophy to quiet the naysayers.

The Dallas Mavericks had no business either winning or sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in this series, and by leading his team to victory against an opponent that was an overwhelming favorite (and boasted 4 of the 5 best players in the series), Dirk Nowitzki erased any questions about whether he is a true Alpha-Dog superstar in the NBA. He did everything in this series– shut down Pau Gasol, make the correct passes out of double teams, make clutch shots when his team needed them, and provide strong leadership – and he did so with a starting lineup that consisted of a 38 year old Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and DeShawn Stevenson???

Dirk’s Mavs not only beat the defending championship, they destroyed and demoralized them to the point that all 12 of the Laker players quit in the final elimination game. You have to be happy for Dirk. His teams may have choked in the past and his decision making in woman may be horrendous, but his performance against the Lakers was simply legendary, and he will finally get the respect and recognition that he deserves.

And lastly…..

Congratulations to the 1991 Detroit Pistons!

20 years later, you are officially off the hook.

Until now, you boasted the most disgraceful playoff exit by a defending champion when you prematurely walked off the floor and refused to shake hands with the opponent in the waning minutes of a 21 point whooping, dynasty ending, series sweep during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then the 2011 Los Angeles Lakers showed up, and miraculously made you an afterthought. Those cheap shots by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom officially superseded any Pistons walkout ceremony and now officially top the all time list of the “NBA’s Most Classless Meltdowns”.

Note to Future Defending Champions: If you are getting your ass kicked and are about to get swept, just leave the floor with some semblance of dignity and let Luke Walton take your place instead of switching to hockey in the middle of the 4th quarter.

It will be a very long and interesting summer. Lets hope the lockout ends sooner than later


50 Responses to “Final Thoughts on Phil Jackson’s Last Dance”

  1. Very spot on read, great article.

    Posted by H | May 9, 2011, 8:20 am
    • Great article. Love the points about maximizing what you have. Winning is part of that, but you can’t win without the horses. MJ V. Kobe. No comparison at all. Kobe’s two finals defeats and numerous instances of quitting drops him to back of top 10 all time, maybe out of top ten all time.

      Posted by Bill | May 14, 2011, 1:38 pm
      • Thanks for the read Bill – I have always thought that ring counting is the most overrated measurement of greatness. Glad to see that someone else sees things the way I do.

        Posted by The NBA Realist | May 15, 2011, 2:24 pm
    • This is a stupid website. Jordan and Kobe are both all time greats but for christ’s sake the NBA has been around for over 50 years give some credit to the other all time greats as well! No one even talks about magic and bird saving the NBA! People if it wasn’t for the 80’s Lakers and Celtics the NBA would had gone no where! Jerry west is the fucking silhoutte of the leagues symbol give him some credit as well! The celtics of the 60’s had great team basketball that should be admired by any avid NBA fan as well. I watch basketball because I love the game not because I follow one player, I follow every player! It’s time to stop all this dumb debating on who’s better an why and instead we should talk about how this generation of players remind us of past players; we don’t have to critically compare them all just because they remind us of the legends of the past.

      Posted by Rev Run | May 20, 2011, 2:18 am
  2. I don’t agree that the Lakers were quite the 91 Pistons. Vanessa Bryant does deserve some blame though.

    Posted by TFK | May 9, 2011, 11:22 am
  3. it’s definetly still a discussion due to some of the differences in this area. you could never double team a player in the nba unless he made a move with the ball in jordans time. i hardly EVER saw the man get a double team. give kobe single coverage a majority of the time in today’s game and he will DESTROY people. the defense on jordan was pathetic. early on, yea he had the bad boy pistons…problem with that argument is that jordan was in his physical prime at that point and could handle the punishment. any good defender there was (horace grant, scottie pippen, dennis rodman) were immediately shipped to jordans team lmao he knew he could never do it against real defenders. there’s a reason kobe shut him down in their meetings versus each other and abused him quite a bit. kobe’s weak lakers from the nineties were dumping on jordans championship teams. taking them to the woodshed. kobe then went and dumped 55 points on jordan when he was with the wizards. jordan was just shaking his head during that game looking glum. and then you gotta factor in that he’s bigger than kobe. he has bigger hands, enabling to hold the ball better and finish better. the three point line was shorter in his era. not to mention teams averaged something like six more possessions a game back then. give kobe six more possessions to score points and THEN we’ll see who’s statistically more dominant. That’s including the year kobe averaged OVER 35 points a game! He could have gotten 40 then every game! if jordan had faced some freaking zones in his career, he would have been bamboozled, especially during his second threepeat. Jordan had a flat shot that relied purely on leaping ability, kobe does not. Kobe’s offensive repetoire has never before been matched in the history of the game. analysts have often said kobe has the best mid range game they’ve ever seen. the coach of the suns last year said he thinks kobe is the best he’s ever seen, and he played AGAINST mike and said that in his comment. jackson also said “with a ball in his hands, kobe is superior to mike” meaning jordan is better at off the ball movement which i agree. he an uncanny knack to know just where on the floor he needed to be at any given time. By the way, when has kobe EVER had 2 hall of fame players on his team in their prime at the same time??? exactly. jordan had pippen AND rodman. people say jordan didn’t need a center. ummmm what do you call the offensive of pippen mixed with the rebounding and defense of rodman????? essentially, he DID have a center in those two combined. jordans teams also had WAAAYYYY better shooting specialists. robert horry was CLUTCh for kobe, but not consistently a knock down shooter. same with fisher. None of them are toni kukoc. factor all of the above with the rape trial of kobe,(which is media influenced) and there goes his overall lack of mvps(from 2003-2008 he was NO QUESTION the best player in the game) all of his peers have said so. including lebron, and knowing how egotistical he is, him giving credit like that says a lot.

    so. what are we left with? best offensive attack in league history? probably kobe, although the skyhook of kareem was LITERALLY unstoppable. most impact on the game? tie. that goes to the bird and magic combination. i still remember magic dumping on jordan in the finals until jackson convinced jackson to put scottie on him lmao. overall best player in terms of talent? In history, oscar robinson without a doubt. Physical talent? Lebron James. Most rings? Russell. Most efficient? Tons of players over jordan. Most clutch? Probably Bird or Kobe (although the steal on malone in the finals was high up there for jordan) best dunker ever? vince carter, and in terms of quality of dunks, go on youtube and look at kobe’s from earlier in his career. he was throwing down the business on people. jordan mostly dunked nice on fast breaks and over smaller defenders. kobe dunked on yao ming, ben wallace, dwight howard, dikembe mutombo, kevin garnett, really big guys. He SLAMMED it on those boys. Best dribbler? probably pistol pete, isaiah, iverson, or chris paul. most mvp’s? again, not jordan. i believe kareem is tied or ahead of him. and kareem won championships with two separate franchises. that’s before he left college basketball where he was the unquestionable best player ever. best seller of shoes?

    Michael Jordan.

    Get your faces out of the media, and just WATCH the game and use the eyeball test. It’s not too hard. My fellow AAU coaches agree with me, and they’ve seen more generations of players than even I have. please bear in mind that kobe was in year 15 of his career, and has played more playoff games than michael jordan, and reached more finals than mike. mike’s teams weren’t beating hakeem’s teams those two years. Hakeem put his team on his back unlike any player I’ve ever seen. jordan took time off to rest his legs and it’s pretty obvious. add that to the year he broke his leg and didn’t even play, and you have three years of his career where he didn’t even play!!! so. he played 12 seasons. let’s subtract one of those for the injury, and age wise, we’ll subtract 2 more for his time off. that means he had nine seasons really. let’s go nine seasons into kobe’s career. 2005. one of the most electrifying seasons the nba has ever seen. that would have been the equivalent of the year mike retired with the bulls. people talk about overall age like it matters. what matters is games played due to the toll it takes on your legs. so wizards mike essentially, was where kobe is NOW. and he didn’t average anywhere near where kobe is averaging. we all know the dunk contest he won was a sham, due to him being in his hometown. dominique wilkins had the superior dunks, and it’s really not a debate. he overplayed the passing lanes to win his defensive player of the year due to his steals, so i’m not that impressed. kobe has more all star game mvp’s, and that’s when the game is against all your greatest peers. no defensive there? well i guess mike should have more mvp’s in that category huh.

    so no, i won’t agree mike is better at basketball. i agree he’s more likeable to the general public, and more marketable. the best players ever don’t ride the pine in college, or get cut from their high school team. the talent would have made itself apparent at that point. hard work (like talent) can only get you so far. the media played a HUGE role on peoples perception of his career. same with kobe, except he’s always been hated.

    Posted by The Schwab | May 9, 2011, 11:45 am
    • Hmmm. That was a very long post, Schwab. However, it didn’t convince me that Kobe is as good as Jordan was. Here are some counter-arguments:

      1. MJ had to face hand-checking, which Kobe does not. This balances out the lack of zone defense. Plus, MJ was an excellent good outside shooter, a great post-up player even against double-teams, a good passer and on of the all-time greats at attacking the rim, so he probably would not have been “bamboozled” by a zone.
      2. The NBA three point line was only shorter for a few years in the mid-nineties, during two of which Jordan was playing baseball. Prior to that it was the same as it is now.
      3. MJ was not any bigger than Kobe, but he did have bigger hands.
      4. All of Kobe’s games against MJ came when MJ was older than Kobe is now. You can’t read anything into those head-to-head matchups.
      5. Unlike Kobe, MJ was capable of taking over games with defense and rebounding as well as scoring. Kobe was more like Reggie Miller in that he can shoot you in or out of a game.
      6. Magic Johnson was 6’9″. Scottie was 6’8″. Made more sense for him to guard Magic than 6’6″ MJ. That says nothing about MJ’s defense. Believe me, Kobe couldn’t have guarded Magic either.
      7. All the talk about different eras aside, MJ in his prime won more consistently than Kobe ever has. Think about this: from the beginning of the 1990-91 season to the end of his time with the Bulls, MJ won six straight championships during seasons in which he participated in training camp. That’s dominant.

      Posted by badpdx | May 9, 2011, 12:10 pm
    • One more thing: if you actually take the time to watch footage of Jordan (luckily, there is tons of it on Youtube) you will see him dunking on players like Mark Eaton, Manute Bol, Robert Parish, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, all of whom are 7′ or taller.

      I agree that MJ is at times overrated by people who think he had absolutely no weaknesses. However, I also think Kobe is even more overrated by people who think he has no weaknesses. MJ was more clutch than Kobe, more athletic, a better defender, passer and rebounder, a better teammate and a more consistent winner in his prime. Which, by the way, is missing two years. MJ was better.

      Posted by badpdx | May 9, 2011, 12:16 pm
    • The Schwab – Thanks for the read. You are obviously a Kobe fan and there is a ton of venting in your post – the majority of which is completely flawed and shortsighted while leaning on other people’s opinions rather than your own. My preference is if you would give your own, but based on your logic, I sense that are probably in your early 20s and never actually saw Jordan play in his prime.

      For this reason, I am not going to respond to all of your comments but will say that you are completely wrong about Jordan not facing double and triple teams. In fact it took me all of 2 seconds to find a video on youtube demonstrating this.

      I want to respond to this only for the benefit of the other readers on our site because I hear this all the time – Just because there were Illegal defenses does not mean that there were no double or triple teams. Double and Triple teams happened all the time. The Illegal defense rule, which in its true definition means that you cannot double team a man without the basketball ,has essentially been renamed the 3-second Defensive rule in today’s game since most off-the-ball double teams occured in the paint to begin with. Therefore the impact is just the same and nothing has really changed. Put another way, you could absolutely double team a player as long as they had the ball. However, teams scarcely double teamed a player on the perimeter when they did not have the ball – at the NBA level, this would be suicide since basic ball movement would result in a wide open 3. Moreover, the only teams that ever play zone with consistency are Golden State and Phoenix and a basic mid-range game will penetrate the zone everytime. There is a reason why the zone is played so infrequently.

      In addition, Jordan played in an era where there was hand-checking, fewer fouls, fewer flagrant fouls, and more moving screens.

      You are correct in that there were more possessions during the Jordan era and his points are more inflated vs today’s era. However, Jordan did not have to take nearly as many shots to get his points as Kobe. His FG%, EFG%, and TS% were all substantially higher during an era where league percentages were lower for guards. Bottom line, anyone can score points if they take a ton of shots – even a broken clock is right twice a day.

      I’m not really sure what to say when you comparing a 22 year old kobe to a 40 year old Jordan. Jordan was well past his prime and a shell of what he once was. But if it makes you happy, go right ahead.

      Not sure where you got the Phil Jackson quote from.

      If the coach of the suns believes he is the best in the game, it MUST be true?

      Lastly, feel free to read my post on Kobe vs. Lebron, Game Winning Shots to guage a better understanding on why you should not rely on the experts so much:

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 9, 2011, 12:30 pm
    • Ok then answer me this question… Why do the greats, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Bird consider Jordan the greatest of all time? You must know something that they don’t know. Even Tim Grover who trained both Jordan and Kobe was asked who he thought was the greatest and he chose Jordan. I’ll take their word over yours anyday…

      Posted by Jason | May 9, 2011, 1:22 pm
    • Some nice quotes that shredded any credibility you have:

      1. “MJ never got double teamed”
      2. “Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman were immediately shipped to MJ’s team because he couldn’t beat them”
      3. “Kobe’s offensive repetoire has never before been matched in the history of the game”
      4. ” jordan mostly dunked nice on fast breaks and over smaller defenders”

      Even one of those quotes would render your credibility garbage, but you managed to pump out 4. Well played.

      Posted by Adam | May 9, 2011, 7:06 pm
    • Kiss the rings, Shwab.

      Posted by Michael Jordan | May 10, 2011, 1:32 am
    • I read your entire post and all I have to say is your are an idiot. The points you bring up for/against MJ are valid but your support and reasoning are for those arguments are ridiculous, almost comedic.

      Posted by Th@! | May 10, 2011, 9:51 am
    • Schwab: Numbers don’t lie…Jordan beats Kobe in almost evert statistical category. You are also flat wrong on your defensive assessment during Jordan’s era. Ask any expert: defense against perimeter players in Jordan’s era, was much tougher than this era. Also, three point line was moved in for a very brief time.

      Lastly, Jordan was loved more than Kobe, no doubt, but the fact that Kobe was gifted an all defense first team this year shows that he is loved by the media. Even with the media’s love, he has only one MVP. I’d take Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kareem, Olajuwon, Wilt, Russel, Oscar…all before Kobe.

      Posted by Bill | May 14, 2011, 1:43 pm
  4. @schwab, the moment you said you never saw the man get doubled teamed, I stopped reading. Jordan was constantly double, triple and quadruple teamed.

    Posted by H | May 9, 2011, 11:52 am
  5. oh, and to your line about you won’t agree mike is better in basketball. ok, if kobe’s better, why hasn’t he eclipsed any of mj’s overall accolades, offensively and defensively?

    Jordan lead the league in steals 3 times, going over 200 steals 6 times in his career, kobe’s never cracked 150 steals in a season.

    I can do that all day, but it would be pointless and frankly embarrassing for kobe. Kobe is going to the hall of fame, but he is not and has never been the complete two way player mj was. sorry.

    Posted by H | May 9, 2011, 11:55 am
  6. oh, and you want to talk about electrifying seasons, try leading the league in scoring, getting mvp, and defensive player of the year, while leading the league in steals all in one year. c’mon now.

    Posted by H | May 9, 2011, 11:57 am
  7. Is there something to be said that Kobe’s career is plagued by more by non-appreciation for his play (top 10, we agree?) but for all his dectractors pointing to every failure saying “Ha! I told you he wasnt MJ!” and all his supporters saying “See! One ring away!”

    For the record, I dont think Kobe is on MJ’s level. He is #1 outright.

    I also see Kobe getting a 6th ring and being possibly the greatest “winner” of all time outside of MJ and Russell.

    Is that not an impressive feat in itself?

    How will folks feel when they realized they wasted his whole career “hating” rather than just appreciate the guy for who he is.

    I always say every great player has his flaws and Kobe certainly has is. But the great ones overcome them and WIN. There are few who have every done it like Kobe. Unfortunately, many will never realize that or give appropriate respect until he’s long gone…

    Posted by Korey | May 9, 2011, 2:54 pm
    • Couldn’t agree with you more.

      I like to think that I have given Kobe his fair and just due. I believe that he is one of the 10 greatest basketball players of all time (which could be interpreted as a response to his detractors who would try and keep him out of the top 10). However, I also believe that he is not, and will never me, Michael Jordan (which can be interpreted as anti-Kobe to those who want to interpret it that way). Ultimately, what you are hearing is the loud and defiant screams from both sides which creates a ton of noise.

      I’m not sure about the others, but I certainly appreciate Kobe Bryant and where his legacy will rest in history.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 9, 2011, 3:09 pm
      • I’ll bite on this because I can’t say no to a good debate and I disagree with the assumption that Kobe’s obviously top 10. In no way does this mean that I feel I am trying to disrespect Kobe Bryant, nor am I “trying to keep him out of the top 10.” I feel that there are other players who may be just as good or better, and if saying that I am not convinced he’s better than some of the other all-time greats is an insult, then so be it. I admit I dislike Kobe Bryant as a person, but I feel the same way about numerous others on this list including Jordan, Wilt, and Shaq, and I try not to factor that into my list. I prefer to at least try to argue from evidence. For instance, you claim Kobe is better than Jordan. MJ beats Kobe Bryant in the following per game stats-minutes, FG%, true shooting %, effective FG %, RPG, APG, SPG, BPG. His clutch shooting percentage almost doubles Kobe’s 31% (I won’t post the actual number so as not to pre-empt Realist’s future column, but you will see soon enough). He has more win shares and is the all time leader in PER. He has more titles, and he’s never lost as a favorite in a playoff series. Kobe has an edge in FT% and 3% (but again, a worse TS % and a worse eFG%) and averages more turnovers per game. They tie in fouls per game. He beats Jordan in no conventional metric of which I am aware, although I am fully willing to be enlightened. As far as I’m concerned you can’t even pretend to make this a real debate, but if you insist on doing so please at least try to support your conjectures with something (anything).

        As for Kobe’s top 10 status? He doesn’t quite make my personal cut. Kobe’s a volume shooter with an aesthetically pleasing offensive arsenal that’s tailor-made for Sportscenter but is actually less effective than most of today’s other top scorers (of the top 30 players in terms of PER, his true shooting percentage is 3rd from last this year while his numbers sit at about his career average). To call him the greatest offensive attack in NBA history, Schwab, is beyond absurd-I actually feel his offensive game hurts his status among the all time greats significantly. However, he’s a great defender and an excellent rebounder who is also a skilled passer when he chooses to be. He’s been blessed with a more talented roster than his peers, including arguably the best frontcourt in the NBA for about half of his career, and has won 5 titles. He’s also had some of the most shameful losses in NBA history (losing to a far inferior Pistons team in the finals, refusing to shoot as his team blew a 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Suns to prove a point, losing to Boston by 39 in a close-out game, and now being swept by an inferior Mavs team capped by a 36 point road loss). Since 2003 the Lakers are 0-5 in road elimination games with an average margin of defeat of 25.6 points. He’s proven to be a suspect leader, sabotaging the Lakers into trading Shaq, trying to engineer a trade for himself with Chicago and, failing that, trying to publicly force his team to trade Andrew Bynum.

        When I put together my personal list of the top players in NBA history, it looks like this. I’m certainly willing to debate any position on this list, but only if one of you can present a rational argument using actual evidence as to why I’m wrong.

        Definitely top 10
        1. Jordan-The all-time leader in PER, 4th in win shares. Never lost a series when his team was favored.
        2. Russell-Perennial NBA alpha male, being the best player on 11 title teams in 13 years in the league.
        3. Kareem-sky hook is the most unguardable offensive move ever, played for 20 years and had 6 titles, 6 MVPs, and is the all-time leading scorer.
        4. Wilt-the most dominant force ever. Numerous NBA single game and season records. 5th in PER, 2nd in Win Shares.
        5. Magic-the most versatile player, the most creative player, the best court vision.
        6. Bird-Magic’s equal out east. Proficient in all aspects of the game. Won 3 titles and 3 MVPs. The end of his career was marred by injuries.
        7. Oscar Robertson-averaged a triple double. Nothing this guy couldn’t do. 26 points, 9 assists and 8 boards per game for his career. Won his only title in the twilight of his career when he teamed up with Kareem.
        8. Shaq-unstoppable in his prime, then stuck around as a solid pivot for many years. 4 titles, 3 as the alpha dog. 3rd in PER, 8th in win shares. His top seasons rank with anybody short of Wilt’s. You could easily argue he should be higher based on his numbers, but he was responsible for a lot of team turmoil and dysfunction that lead to him frequently being on teams that underachieved. That knocks him down in my estimation.

        The rest of the borderline top 10 guys in the order I, personally, would rank them. I would say you can make a legit argument that any of them deserves to be in the top 10, and I can’t say with confidence that any one of them is better than the next guy.

        -Tim Duncan-mind-numbingly efficient on offense and defense, best PF ever. 4 titles, always the alpha dog.
        -Hakeem Olajuwon-revolutionized the pivot. All-time leader in blocks, unstoppable on O. Overachieved in winning two titles with a shockingly mediocre supporting cast.
        -Moses Malone-multiple MVPs, also unstoppable in the post, one of the best rebounders ever.
        – Jerry West-the first great scoring guard and a posterboy for consistent excellence, he was a 10 time all-NBA player and played in 9 NBA finals. Though he was unfortunate to run into Russell’s stacked Celtics on an almost annual basis, he consistently showed his worth and was named finals MVP despite playing for the losing team. He eventually got over the hump and won a title in the early 70s.
        -Kobe Bryant-See above.
        -John Havlicek-perhaps the player most similar to Kobe, he won 8 NBA titles, 6 as a member of Bill Russell’s supporting cast and 2 tag-teaming with a dominant big in Dave Cowens. One of the best defenders ever. Averaged 20/6/4 over his career. I put him below Kobe because he has similar career averages but scored about 5 PPG less and was never the man on a championship team like Kobe was.
        -Dr. J-dominant force on both ends. During ABA and NBA careers combined for 3 titles, 16 all-star appearances and 4 MVPs. Would probably rank higher if he hadn’t spent the prime of his career playing against weaker competition in the ABA.

        Posted by Lochpster | May 9, 2011, 9:30 pm
        • Lochpster,

          First off, I want to applaud you for repeatedly bringing critical thinking and thought to all of your message posts. I may not agree with you opinions, just as you may not agree with mine, but I always appreciate when a reader can substantiate their opinions with data and facts.

          The top 10 list is always interesting and comes down to more of a philisophical debate than anything else. It is very subjective and everyone’s criteria is different. With that said, I spent a lot of time studying the resumes and game tape of the legends, and then thinking and then rethinking this list before coming to my conclusion. When evaluating the Top 10, a lot depends on whether or not you take individual skill/talent into the equation or whether you look strictly at a players resume. If we are looking strictly at a player’s resume, then you are correct – Kobe is very questionable when it comes to the Top 10. However, I look at both and the following are my criteria:

          1.) Individual Talent and Skills – When they step on the court, who is simply the better player
          2.) Resume
          a. Winnability – Ability to win with the talent provided vs. simply winning championships (overachievements vs. under achievements)
          b. Dominance – How long did he dominate the league
          c. Big Game Players – Clutchness, Playoffs, Finals, Iconic Games
          d. Championships (As an Alpha Dog)
          e. Leadership/Intangibles
          f. Accolades
          g. Impact on the Game/Legacy

          I can write an entire post on why these are my criteria (and probably will one day), but in the interim, I hold Kobe within the Top 10 largely because of #1 – he is one of the 5 -6 most talented all around players to ever play the game (not only because of #1, but largely) on both sides of the ball.

          In some ways, I agree with you that he is a volume shooter, but he also has a career 56% TS percentage which is very high amongst scorers with a 25ppg average, and has also demonstrates an innate ability to get to the line.

          His “Winnability” factor is his biggest detriment. During 4 instances in his career (2 of them inexcusable) he was part of championship caliber teams that were favored to win a series but did not – Spurs 2003, Detroit 2004, Boston 2008, Dallas, 2011. Moreover, he has never once overachieved or won against a team as an underdog, and as you and I agree, has been blessed with more supporting talent than arguably any other player to ever play the game which contributes to his championships. Regardless of whether he played with HOFers during these past 3 years, he had a better supporting cast than anyone else and his teams SHOULD have won – they were the favorites. I firmly believe Kobe didn’t propel his supporting cast to win championships as much as his supporting cast propelled Kobe.

          His dominance as the best player in the league really only spanned for 3 years (2006-2008) after Tim Duncan, and before Lebron, and he has only won 1 MVP. And his impact on the game will not be in the league of guys like Jordan, Magic, Bird and Kareem, etc.. Moreover, he has never really had a “big game” or iconic moment that we can capture for the ages, similar to Jordan’s Flu game or Magic’s game 6 in 1980. The 2 min in overtime against Indiana was nice, but would not crack my Top 20 as far as greatest NBA moments of all time is concerned (in fact, when the NBA put together their list, it did not even crack the top 60).

          With that said, Kobe still makes my top 10 for many of the reasons that 3 of the players on your list also fall short in my criteria.

          I never bought in to the Bill Russell argument. From a talent perspective, he would be the equivalent to a better offensive version of Ben Wallace in today’s game and had a very unrefined offensive game (shot 44% career for a big man), although he was a terrific defender. He was a true leader that brought intangibles to the table and knew how to win. He won 11 championships (10 as an Alpha Dog though – I will still argue that Hondo was the alpha dog on the 69 team) but also played with 6 other Hall of Famers which place his winnability factor into question somewhat. Bill Russell won 11 championships, but he was also supposed to win those championships (except for 69 which was an overachievement). He customarily had the better talent, best teams, and best coach in basketball. Had Bill Russell been part of another team would he have come to the same level of prominence? I doubt it. However, I feel like the other players on my list would have still made their mark regardless of era. Russell certainly had big games, numerous accolades, and phenomenal leader which is why he still remains in my top 10, but more toward the bottom.

          The other challenge that I would offer is around Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was a statistical machine would benefitted more from time and place than any other. He was matched up against players with an average height of 6’8 while he was 7’2 and this played a large part in his success. I know that we need to be careful when penalizing players who playing in specific eras, and some people stay away from it – I don’t. By not penalizing those people who benefitted from time in place, we are therefore then penalizing those who were born in a more competitive era. Had Kareem or Olajuwon played in the 1960s, they would have done just as well if not better, and I am extremely reluctant to assign award greatness to someone who benefits from time and place. The other thing about Wilt is despite his dominance, his teams underachieved 4 times (61, 63, 66, 69) and he never once overachieved, putting his winnability into question. He was also the Alpha Dog on only 1 championship team (1967) while West was the Alpha dog on the other (1972).

          Oscar Robertson was great. But Oscar also benefitted largely from the pace of the game which was nearly twice as fast as it is today. No way that Oscar averages a triple double in today’s game where there is only an average of 92 total possessions. Moreover, Oscar suffered some playoff embarrassments as well (62 and 65) while his only ring came as a sidekick to Kareem.

          I do btw have Hakeem very high on my list as I do Duncan.

          I have thought long and hard on this one over the past 2 years, and for all of Kobe’s shortcomings, his talent pushes him over the edge while his resume, while not great, can be argued against many of those who we consider the greatest. He can do things that most players who have played the game simply cannot do and for me, the eye test plays a very minor part in the evaluation.

          For the record, my top 5 are the following:

          1.) Jordan
          2.) Olajuwon – Other than Jordan, the only other player in NBA history who never underachieved. Also, in my mind, one of the top 5 talents ever.
          3.) Magic
          4.) Duncan
          5.) Kareem

          Posted by The NBA Realist | May 10, 2011, 1:05 pm
          • I’m glad you chose to respond to my post, and I applaud your well-reasoned responses. I also really like your criteria. All are clearly very important to one’s legacy. Of course, because I love to argue so much, I can’t pass up the opportunity to defend my choices a bit, and, of course, I’ll address your argument for Kobe as well. I am also curious as to the rest of your top 10, as you tell me Kobe’s in your top 10 and then list a top 5, I’d like to know who he bumps.

            First off, I admit Russell is a tricky player to rank historically, but it’s hard for me to move him out of my top 4 with MJ, Wilt and Kareem. I usually base my arguments on individual statistics as primary evidence for a player’s success, yet I wind up weighing team success with Russell more than I do with any other player. Why? Russell was an incredibly unique talent. He had more impact on the game historically than any player, ever, in my opinion. Many players have been responsible for particular innovations on offense, but Russell is responsible for the attacking, aggressive defense and intimidation that has been the hallmark of every NBA champion since at least 1980 and probably before. You can still see Russell’s impact on the game when a guy like Dennis Rodman or Joakim Noah or Ben Wallace takes a team completely out of their game with both fantastic defense and psychological warfare. To me, those players are much more rare and unique than the high-scoring slasher types. Additionally, prior to Russell, the Celtics had 0 championships. They won 11 titles in 13 years after drafting him, and after he retired they just stopped winning. The temporal relationship is striking. It may be true that he was always surrounded by excellent talent, but he had legitimate competition in talented Hawks, Lakers, Royals, and 76ers squads, yet he won with a consistency that has never been matched before or since. Using your own criteria, he is arguably the best player ever in terms of winnability, big games, championships as an alpha dog (whether or not he was the guy in ’69, you’re probably right he wasn’t, he still has 10 as the top guy), leadership, and impact/legacy. You can say he wouldn’t have made as big an impact elsewhere and are probably right, but I’d say the same thing about most of the best players ever. However, when you say the guy’s not a premier talent, you’re just not giving him his due. Remember he was traded for 2 Hall of Famers before he’d ever played an NBA game. It’s not like he was a tough guy/enforcer type who just stumbled into the right fit. The guy was that good.

            On to Wilt. I’m troubled by your argument that we should denigrate Wilt because of time and place. I also feel that, while his resume may be a bit weak on the winning front, but he was hampered by timing much the same way that many other superstars on our list have been when facing a dynasty. Name me and NBA great who didn’t benefit from time and place. Jordan never won a title without Phil Jackson, Pippen and Rodman or Grant. Hakeem probably never wins a title if Jordan doesn’t retire. Magic and Kareem benefitted from playing with each other and numerous other Hall of Famers. Duncan was drafted onto an already stacked Spurs team after an injury to David Robinson sabotaged a perennial 50-60 win team for one season. On the flip side, guys like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing might have been in this discussion if they hadn’t been unfortunate to play at the same time as Jordan. Wilt was the most unguardable player ever and dominated with every team he ever played. He holds the league records for points (single game and season), rebounds (single game and season), minutes (average, season), and he led the league in assists from the pivot! Could you imagine a center playing 48.5 minutes a game or leading his team in assists? He wasn’t just some behemoth like Shaq as we are wont to believe, but he could do everything, except maybe shoot free throws. His PER is 5th all time and he’s 2nd in win shares. Again, this was without any of his defensive contributions being recorded, as they are for today’s players. And remember, he’s the only superstar to knock off Russell in Russell’s prime. Late in his career, he adapted to being a primarily defensive and rebounding center when he realized it was his best chance to a 2nd championship and deferred to West-that’s no knock on Wilt, just like it’s no knock on Russell that he deferred to other guys on his was out the door. I also don’t buy into the argument that it’s reasonable to penalize players for era-I feel that there is a persistent misperception that people today are somehow smarter and more talented than those in the past. Today’s players all have advantages such as personal trainers and chefs as well as a body of knowledge that was miniscule 30 years ago. Of course they’d beat players from Wilt’s era. That’s like saying today’s US military would crush the US military from World War 2, but that doesn’t mean those generals were less brilliant or those soldiers less talented than today’s. While it’s interesting to speculate on the differences between eras, it’s really hard to prove. In Wilt’s era, he had absolutely nobody in his statistical ballpark as a scorer, ranked with the best point guards as a passer, was equaled only by Bill Russell on the boards, and was in a league of his own for durability. And to think he did all this while sleeping with over 20,000 women. What a stud.

            Oscar Robertson, to me, also has an incredible resume. His stats were somewhat inflated by his era, granted, but what amazing stats they were. Here’s a guy who averaged over 30 PPG and a triple double over his first 5 seasons in the league. He lead the league in assists 6 times. Only 2 players ever have more 30 point seasons. He lead the league in PPG and APG in the same season. He shot .485 from the floor over the course of his career in an era when that was unheard of, and he led the league in free throw percentage twice. As far as impact, he is credited with inventing the pump fake and fadeaway jumper. Sure, he had to team up with Kareem to win a title, but throughout the 60s it was mainly Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas versus the world, so while you can point out that he never won a title as an alpha dog, I’m not sure you can say he really underachieved.

            Back to Kobe. From your own system, he admittedly falls short on winnability as he never overachieved and frequently underachieved, his big game play/clutchness has been rebuked many times, and his leadership/intangibles were clearly questionable as per my previous post. He was clearly the alpha dog on 2 title teams (although Pau Gasol actually had numbers as good as or better than Kobe last year). He gets credit for dominating for a long time-he’s likely to go down as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Yet the crux of your argument for ranking him so high is when you argue that he is one of the 5-6 most talented players ever. I understand this is a common perception, but nobody’s ever shown me evidence to support this. In fact, I have trouble with this criterion as a whole. At the end of the day I don’t care about a player’s potential, I want to see their results, and Kobe’s individual numbers are great, but not exceptionally so. What was it that he did that made him so uniquely talented and set him apart from his peers? Perhaps it was that he was able to make shots no other player could have, but if indeed that’s the argument (and it’s the one I usually hear), I would point out that other players are capable of getting better shots and making them at a more efficient rate, and to me that’s worth more than any amount of skill at making ridiculously difficult shots. There are plenty of players with great numbers and similar skill sets to Kobe-Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady, Manu Ginobli, a young Grant Hill, Pippen, Vince Carter when he cared, Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, and further back guys like John Havlicek and Elgin Baylor. These guys all have/had roughly identical skill sets-fearless slashers, tough finishers, adequate but not exceptional outside shooters, capable of playing brilliant on-the-ball defense. Statistically, Jordan’s PER is 4.5 better than Kobe, James is PER 3.5 better, Wade leads him by 2.5, and Wilkins, Ginobli, Baylor, and McGrady are all within 2. On my list, I feel like you could say about all the guys in my top 10 “he was the best at this” or “he was the only one who ever did this” or “he invented this, and everybody copied it.” As far as legacy goes, Jordan was in a class by himself, Baylor basically invented playing above the rim and Havlicek was the first great 6th man. Any of the others, for all their fantastic skills, didn’t really change the way the game is played. The most unique thing about Kobe is likely going to be that he played at a high level for a really long time, and I admit that’s worth a lot. You point out Kobe’s true shooting percentage as a defense of his offensive abilities, but it’s 130th all time and inferior to many high-scoring guards/slashers including Jordan, Ginobli, Wade, James, George Gervin, and many lesser stars while being in the rough neighborhood of James Worthy, Andre Iguodala, Gerald Wallace, Rolando Blackman, Steve Smith, Byron Scott, and Mitch Richmond. To me this does not make him a scoring talent for the ages, it makes him a good offensive player. I will not dispute that he is an excellent defender, but I don’t think his defense was revolutionary in the same vein as Bill Russell’s. To me, that’s Kobe’s legacy. A fantastic defender, a very good but not great offensive player who took a lot of unnecessarily difficult shots, a guy who won a lot of titles but who failed to maximize his talent and his teams’ potential, and a guy who played for a really long time, a guy who’s memorable but who didn’t revolutionize the game in any way, and a guy who’s incredibly polarizing and has led to more debates than any athlete, ever. To me, that’s not top 10 material. There are just too many warts.

            I respect your opinion greatly and suspect we will wind up having an honest disagreement. I’d really like to see the remainder of your top 10.

            Posted by Lochpster | May 10, 2011, 10:13 pm
          • Lochpster,

            First, let me give you my Top 10:

            1.) Michael Jordan
            2.) Hakeem Olajawon
            3.) Magic Johnson
            4.) Tim Duncan
            5.) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
            6.) Shaquille O’Neal
            7.) Wilt Chamberlain
            8.) Moses Malone
            9.) Kobe Bryant
            10.) Larry Bird

            Aslo I should probably clarify my definition “Winnability” since this plays an enormous part in my evaluation criteria and it is different than winning. Winnability is the ability to win with the talent given, not simply the ability to win. I wrote a little bit about this in my 1991 NBA Finals post:


            However, to further elaborate and give insight into my mind (which can be scary), I classify winnability into 3 categories.

            1.) The ability for a star to win against the teams that they are supposed to win (given the potential limitations/non-limiations of their supporting cast)
            2.) The ability for a star to not lose to the teams that they are not supposed to lose to (given the potential limitations/non-limitations of their supporting cast)
            3.) The ability to win against the team’s that they have no business winning against, especially given the limitations of their supporting cast.

            I do not actually apply any type of formal points system, but as I work this out in my mind, it is probably safe to say that a player stays at par for #1, receives negative points for #2, and positive points for #3. I also will tell you that I value #3 slightly more than #2, and value #2 more than I do #1. Winning against the teams you are supposed to win against is expected, losing to the teams you are not supposed to lose to is inexcusable, and winning against the teams you have no business winning against is highly commendable.

            In sum, this philosophy works to apply far more critical thinking than basic ring counting which I think is stupid, since not every player is blessed with fantastic management, and tries to better determine the greatness of a player based their ability to win with the weapons provided to them. This to me is true greatness and Winnability is an enormous factor for me when evaluating the legacies of players

            This is also why Bill Russell did not really score as high on my scale. While the 1969 championship would earn a #3 on the Winnability scale, I believe that Hondo was the Alpha Dog. Other than that, there were no major overachievements. Russell won the games he was supposed to win (which should not be trivialized and still earns #1 recognition), but also lost to a St Louis Hawks team in 1958 that he should have won. Therefore, by my count, as an Alpha Dog, Russell never really overachieved, underachieved once, and ultimately usually won against the teams that he was supposed to win. This raises questions as to whether another legend could have done the same thing, especially with 5 other Hall of Famers on their team. In sum, it is important for me to be able to look at a player and say "that player did something that no one else, or even very few could have done". I simply do not get that sense from Russell, and in fact believe that there are players within my top 10 who can have done better, particularly given the Celtics talent.

            You are right in that he was amazingly consistent and again, this is not to discount the challenge that comes with repeatedly staying on top. However the great ones usually win when opportunities are given to them, and no one got more opportunities than Russell. Russell had more help than anyone else in the history of the game. Yes, the Celtics started winning championships once he arrived, but I am hard pressed to believed that anyone else in my top 10 couldn’t have done the same thing.

            No doubt that Russell was an innovator and this would fall more under the “Impact/Legacy on the game” which personally is a lower criteria. Also, I am not minimizing his talent to the level of a simple enforcer, but after watching the film and analyzing the stats, his offensive game is a very big question mark and I simply do not believe that he has the talent or basketball skills of any of the other top 10 on my list, particularly on the offensive end.

            Wilt - I think you may have misinterpreted Winnability here. I do not blame Wilt for losing to Russell. Russell’s teams were simply better and he lost to a team he should have lost to. He did however underachieve on 3 separate instances (1960, 1963, 1969) and his team should have beaten the Celtics in 1969. Moreover, his teams never once overachieved. In 1967 he did finally get over the hump, but I believe that his supporting cast was very sufficient and that was the first year that the Celtics were truly the inferior team. I do however, struggle with 1966 and 1968. I am still not sure if the Celtics should have been expected to beat Phili or whether Russell simply overachieved. Big question mark for me.

            With that said, Wilt’s stats, which defines at least 60% of his legacy, were grossly inflated and the bi-product of pace during the 1960s. I spoke about this at length when normalizing rebounding totals within one of my articles:

            But if you look at Wilt’s stats, you will notice that the years he scored a ton of points, his FG% was relatively low for a Center. Also his points and rebounds were high, but more because of the pace of the game in which he simply had nearly twice as many possessions as the modern day era. Moreover, the two years he averaged 7+ assists, his scoring suffered, and it was almost as if he was trying to prove a point to his detractors who would claim that he was not skilled and merely used brute force. Wilt was indeed skilled and one of my top 10. Just not top 5.

            Lastly with regards to normalzing for era, I do in fact take into account modern day medicine, training, diet, regiment, etc.. when evaluating players of both generations. If Wilt were to play in the modern era, I believe that he would perhaps be a slightly more athletic version of Shaq. I am not saying that Wilt couldn’t excel in this era, because he was certainly skilled. However, given the pace of the game, the increased size of the players etc.., there is no way that he is as statistically dominant as he was in the 60’s – and I believe that statistical dominance has in many ways defined his specific greatness. Wilt to me benefited from time and place, and even with the benefits of modern day medicine, he would not have been able to do now what he did then.

            Oscar – Determining Oscar’s legacy is the most challenging of them all. I hear your point regarding the statistical accomplishments of Oscar and you are correct in that 48.5% was extremely high for a guard. Also he many not have averaged a tripe double in today’s game, but 7.5 reb, 7.5 assists per game is still a fair estimate. He was the victim of a crappy supporting cast more than anyone else. His 1963 team overachieved by beating the Nationals, but his 1962 got bounced by a Pistons team they shouldn’t have lost to. Therefore, as an Alpha Dog, he overachieved and underachieved. Moreover, he never won a championship as an Alpha Dog which still bothers me, even though, based on my own Winnability scale, he met the all of the criteria, so it would be contradictory on my part. You make some good points, and I probably need to rethink Oscar’s place on this list. However, if we put Oscar on there, we need to put Lebron as well based on the same exact reasons.

            Kobe – I think that Kobe’s numbers are better than you think. Remeber, unlike the other legends, he entered the league out of high school. Take away his first 3 years (2 of which he was coming off the bench) look at his number since then, and his career average is 28-6-5 with a TS% of 56% which as far as I know, are numbers only Jordan has averaged for an entire career. This is why I consider him to be one of the most talented players to ever play in the NBA. While his TS% is lower than some of the players you mentioned, the ability to manufacture points is key, and had players such as Byron Scott or Mitch Richmond tried to manufacture shots, no doubt their TS% would have decreased. I believe we need to look at the combination of both. Creating offense is something that very few players can do, and something that I value tremendously. It forces the defense to design entire game plans and commit to double and triple teams which opens up the offense for other players.

            His winnability is troubling, but so are some of the other legends on my list– I can argue that Kareem underachieved 8 times in his career, Wilt 5 times, and Bird 4 times.

            His longevity will be his greatest asset and one thing that works in his favor is his defense. While it has slipped this past year, his overall defense, and especially on-ball defense, has been phenomenal.

            Lastly, as you point out, he was the Alpha Dog for 2 championships.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | May 11, 2011, 5:07 pm
          • Once again, thanks for the spirited debate. I hear your points on Russell, particularly, and feel he’s probably higher than he ought to be on my list. However, I think we’re going to ultimately wind up disagreeing on our lists because of our different criteria for greatness. My main criteria for greatness are production and legacy/innovation, with winning an important but less critical component.

            To me a player produces what he produces, and his statistical output generally correlates to wins and losses. I also value efficiency and try to avoid giving extra credit for style. To me, style is what you’re talking about with manufacturing shots. I agree you can’t compare Byron Scott to Kobe because Scott was a 4th option. However, you can’t tell me a guy like Mitch Richmond couldn’t manufacture his own shots. He had a career true shooting % similar to Kobe’s while averaging 21 PPG playing for mostly terrible Sacramento and Washington teams. There was no Shaq or Pau Gasol to draw the defense from Richmond. The guy was usually forced to carry the load solo in crunch time and usually wound up being chased by the other team’s best defender. Reggie Miller, similarly, may not have been able to “create” in the 1-on-1 sense but he was always able to get a shot out of his offensive sets when his team needed one, and he had a fantastic TS% of 61%. That is more valuable than a guy who doesn’t need the screens but winds up with a less reliable shot. We probably disagree on this, but I feel very strongly about it.

            Another main criterion is legacy, in terms of changing the game and forcing others to adapt to what you’re doing. There have been plenty of guys who put up great numbers and won a lot of championships in NBA history. Guys who do something new, something that nobody else does, and do it incredibly well have a huge advantage over the rest of their generation, and when the NBA changes the way the game is played, that to me is a mark of greatness. If you’re not forcing others to adapt to you, you better just be better than the rest of them. Looking at my top 5, four of them really changed the way the game is played or did things nobody else could, and they all had hugely successful careers because of it. The one who didn’t, Jordan, has such a successful resume that nobody can touch it.

            I put winning as my third major criterion, but I value it less than the other two. I agree that simple ring counting is silly and pointless, but I also think judging even individual players by team accomplishments is a fairly futile exercise. Winning is a team accomplishment and is more a function of a player’s teammates as it is of his individual greatness. There’s a huge degree of variance in who wins and who loses an NBA series. Sometimes a team catches fire from the arc, sometimes the matchups are terrible, sometimes the wrong player gets injured or a player on the other team goes nuts and suddenly it’s a whole different ballgame. Beyond that, it’s hard to hash out exactly what overacheiving and underacheiving is with so many confounding variables. The Lakers just got smoked and it looks terrible on Kobe’s resume? Whose fault was it? Probably more Pau Gasol and Ron Artest’s fault than Kobe’s. Does that really count against Kobe’s resume? Probably, but he actually had a pretty good series if you look at his numbers. Dirk, Barkley, and Tracy McGrady are in the top 10 in career playoff PER, which seems pretty impressive to me, yet they both are constantly lambasted as playoff underacheivers. Is it Dirk’s fault Wade got 97 free throws in 6 games in ’06? I’m not convinced that if you put Dirk on the Spurs or a healthy McGrady on the Lakers that either team is less successful. Additionally, great players just make their teams better, at which point more becomes expected of them. Did Lebron underachieve when he lost to the Celtics or got swept by the Spurs, or did he overachieve when he carried a team that without him may be the worst in the league to the league’s best record numerous times? Likewise, did Russell play with stacked teams of Hall of Famers, or did so many Boston players make the Hall of Fame because of Russell? The title parades started his rookie season and ended the moment he retired, after all.

            One last point on your Kobe data, with him averaging 28-6-5 if you cut out his first 3 seasons (and 25-5-5 without doing so). There are lots of similar guys with better true shooting percentages without discounting their worst years. One is Michael Jordan who beats Kobe in all of those categories despite playing as a shell of himself into his late 30s. Lebron James notably meets and beats those numbers and has a higher true shooting percentage even if you include his rookie season right out of high school. Dwyane Wade comes in at 26-6-5, not far off and again better than Kobe’s actual career numbers. Oscar Robertson didn’t quite make the cut either, but instead he averaged an even more impressive 26-10-8. Bird shot better and was a 24-10-6 for his career even without accounting for his terrible back his last few seasons. And Dr. J came in at 24-9-4 despite some mediocre twilight years in Philly. So I disagree with your statement that Kobe’s numbers are better than I think. I think there are lots of players who’ve had similar numbers to Kobe, and Lebron and Jordan have indisputably better numbers’. And while Kobe’s longevity will work in his favor some day, we can’t give him extra credit for what he hasn’t done.

            Posted by Lochpster | May 11, 2011, 11:26 pm
          • I think that you hit it on the nail with regards to our differences around criteria and reasoning. Everyone’s is different, and this is what makes it such a subjective discussions. My top criteria are Talent/Skill, Winnability, Dominance, and Clutchness/Big Game moments. Your’s as you mentioned are Production, legacy/innovation, and winning. This is what makes these debates such a blast. There is really no right or wrong answer and given your reasoning skills, I respect your opinion, but nonetheless have my own criteria which I feel strongly about.

            Here is where I will still disagree with you. I try to stay sensitive to not awarding players for style points just as you do, and I do agree with you that Kobe benefits from style far more than any other player. Much of this served as the crux of my Kobe vs Lebron GWS article in that I firmly believe that the publics misperception of Kobe in GW shot situations is based upon style and remembering the finesse shots that he makes. However, the ability to average a high number of points over a career (28) and shoot 56% is a rare feat, I do think that that a 3 point different (25 vs. 28) is substantial after numberous games/seasons.

            Mitch Richmond was a good player, but could not manufacture his shot in the same way that Kobe could. Put another way, Richmond has a 56% career TS%. But if Richmond tried to average 28 ppg for his career, there is no way that he would still shoot 56%. Kobe could. Moreover, in 2007, with a poor supporting cast, Kobe still average 32 points with a 58% TS%. To me, this is saying something.

            I understand the emphasis that you place on innovation, and I really cannot fault you. It is just that to me, I value it less on my scale. I need to be able to visualize 2 players on the court and have a high degree of confidence that one is better than the other. This remains my biggest issue with Bill Russell. Then again, we agree to disagree.

            With regards to the confounding variables that come with overachieving and underachieving, I see your point. However, in my personal opinion, the great ones exhibit a will to win that helps to try and overcome the deficiencies in their teammates play. Pau Gasol carries the brunt of the blame for the Lakers loss to Dallas, but Kobe Bryant grossly underperformed as well. Nonetheless, with this being said, know that I do take into account variables as well in my evaluation of overachievements vs. underachievements. For example, in 1969, the Lakers underachieved by losing to the Celtics. However, Jerry West was phenomenal and earned Finals MVP honors even though his team lost. While West theoretically underachieved, I do not penalize him because of what he did to try and win that series. His Winnability was on display even if they did not win the series, and I still take that into account. West’s teammates simply let him down.

            Same with Lebron in 2009 against Orlando when he averaged an astounding 39 points, 8 reb, 8 assists on 63% TS. He did absolutely everything he possibly could and I am reluctant to point the finger at him. This contrasts from Kobe in 2004 for example, when he average 22-2-4 on 38% shooting. As a result, I penalize Kobe far more than Lebron since you can only do so much as an individual. In sum though, I do take this into account in my evaluation. It’s not losing so much as whether the legend brought their ‘A’ game in losing

            Good points about Kobe and you are really making me rethink my stance. I think that if you include Lebron and Wade into the discussion, my position that Kobe is a top 5 talent becomes flawed. I have yet to really place them because their careers are so new. But against the other legends, I think that the ability to do BOTH 28 points and 56%TS for a career is unique, particularly considering that it would likely be closer to 30/56% if Kobe had not played with Shaq. This probably applies more weight toward scoring than other facets of the game, but I am more of an emotional vs logical preference toward a player who has the ability to generate points when needed.

            I will go ahead and let you have the last word.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | May 12, 2011, 1:37 pm
          • I will take that last word only to say that it’s been a very enjoyable debate for me and has made me rethink both my criteria and my list as well.

            Posted by Lochpster | May 12, 2011, 7:40 pm
          • Love your Olajuwon choice…total stud!

            My top 5 (modern era…say 80’s forward).

            1. Jordan
            2. Bird
            3. Magic
            4. Olajuwon
            5. Duncan

            Posted by Bill | May 14, 2011, 1:50 pm
          • Olajuwon is probably the most underrated legend to ever play. No one overachieved more.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | May 15, 2011, 2:26 pm
    • A common problem is conflating hate with criticism. Just as many times as someone blindly trashes Kobe because of hate, a person criticizes an aspect of Kobe’s game and gets called a ‘hater’.

      Posted by Adam | May 9, 2011, 7:11 pm
  8. I agree with the rest of your post but the beginning is just garbage. This is a rumor that has no credible source and has been adressed and debunked by the involved. Stop heaving the blame on uninvolved others (although I do agree about the thing with the ring and the dress, gosh darnit that is horrible)

    Posted by Zeiram | May 10, 2011, 2:07 am
    • Zeiram – Thanks for the read, but where is your sense of humour?

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 10, 2011, 1:11 pm
      • Apparently my humor detector got momentarily suspended – fair enough didn´t know you were jesting. (There are enough people out there taking this for real, so you never know).

        So this makes this comment even easier, I completely agree with your article (how boring…)

        Posted by Zeiram | May 11, 2011, 4:26 am
  9. The article is very good (don’t know whether the rumors for Gasol’s gf are true but there was something very wrong with him as well as never watched the 1991 sweep of the pistons but still the lakers act against dallas was clasless). Also it will be hard in the future to compare MJ with Kobe as I know that MJ would have never left guys like dirk,j terry and barea to sweep him (I am a Lakers fan but when I watched MJ I knew he could win by himself almost any game that mattered while for Kobe it is very difficult to believe it – check the two finals against boston). And for the record MJ compared himself to Magic – the GOAT.

    Posted by gumeto | May 10, 2011, 6:25 am
    • Thanks for the read gumeto. Obviously the Vanessa Bryant blurb is meant more in humour although I wouldn’t completely rule that scenario out. Something was definitely wrong with Pau.

      Completely agree with your comments on MJ vs. Kobe. MJ never underachieved once in his career and won every playoff series in which he was favored.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 10, 2011, 1:17 pm
  10. Three thoughts on the article:

    1. I may be the only person on the planet who feels this way, but I actually don’t have a problem with what the ’91 Pistons did. To me, it was a natural outgrowth of their hatred of the Bulls, and that’s fine with me because at least they cared and weren’t about to be phony-nice about it. Give me that level of competitive and emotional raw honesty any day.

    2. Jackson’s coaching job in ’93-’94 was one of the two best single-season coaching jobs of my lifetime (the other being Jerry Sloan in ’03-’04, who somehow coaxed 42 wins out of a Jazz team that no one thought would even win 20 that year). It’s beyond ridiculous that he won COY only once, and suggests a high level of unprofessional jealousy among the voters (he should have also won it in ’92, ’94 and ’00).

    3. This next point has already been made, but it bears repeating. The general view is that the Lakers became Kobe’s team in the ’02-’03 season. Since then, the Lakers have reached 4 Finals and won 2 titles. But they have suffered an even greater number of lay-down-and-die losses in elimination games, specifically:

    1. Game 6 in ’03 vs. San Antonio;
    2. Game 5 in ’04 vs. Detroit;
    3. Game 7 in ’06 vs. Phoenix;
    4. Game 6 in ’08 vs. Boston; and
    5. Game 4 vs. Dallas this year.

    The pattern in each case was the same; the Lakers took their 3rd defeat of each series in gut-wrenching, spirit-breaking fashion and got rolled over in the finale. That speaks to a failure of leadership, both on the bench (yes, Phil has to take a hit for this) and on the court (Kobe too, probably a bigger hit in his case).

    Posted by E-Dog | May 10, 2011, 4:31 pm
    • Interesting points E.

      A couple of responses:

      1.) I understand where you are coming from regarding the Pistons’ competitiveness. Even as a Bulls fan, I loved their fire and passion. However, I think that there is a certain dignity that comes with losing. Put another way, there are other champions who had they same passion and fire that the Pistons had, but lost more gracefully vs. refusing to congradulate their opponent.

      3.) Completely agree regarding Kobe. His performance decreases substantially in elimination games and is even worse in Game 7’s where is a career 38.1%. Moreover, in everyone of the aforementioned games that you listed, its not as if Kobe has gone down swinging. Its the same pattern in EVERY game – start the game off strong in the 1st quarter and a half, and when things don’t go well, throw in the towel.

      I still regard Kobe as a legend, but this is one of the major drawback’s in his resume.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 10, 2011, 5:12 pm
  11. By the way, I can’t be the only one wondering if that was “The Schwab” of “Stump the Schwab” fame. Is that you?

    Posted by E-Dog | May 12, 2011, 5:03 am
  12. I’ve seen most of Kobe’s games either in the stands or on TV. Let’s get this straight – even the most die hard Lakers fans would have traded MJ for Kobe in their prime so let’s stop this nonsense. That being said, the biggest Kobe haters would have traded Kobe for any player in the NBA the last decade so quit with your unreasonable nonsense. Your top 10 lists are absurd. You can’t compare a center to a shooting guard. MJ is the best SG of all time. Kobe is #2. .

    Posted by LA | May 16, 2011, 10:00 am
  13. This is the first time I’ve read your article, but I felt the need to reply to some of the things that you have posted.

    1. Your beginning posts about Kobe’s wife cause one to question your bias, your ability to do research, and the credibility of your entire blog. The rumor about Pau’s girlfriend is terrible and a blatent lie. To continue to spread it, even in jest (which those unfamiliar to your blog may not realize is in jest) is shameful. It leads to things like tweets from Shannon Brown denying he slept with Pau’s girlfriend.

    2. The $4 million ring Kobe gave his wife during the Colorado fiasco was ordered two weeks before he even cheated on his wife as evidenced in the following article: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,626534,00.html
    I know it’s juicier to say Kobe bought it just because he got caught, but people really need to give up this lie. That marriage has enough issues with things that are true. No need to continue spreading lies about them too.

    3. MJ vs. Kobe is a matter of opinion. Kobe is the better free throw and three point shooter. MJ was bigger (220 lbs to Kobe’s 205) and more physical. I think MJ was more dominant, but I believe that was situational since he was playing in the east matching up with the likes of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, John Starks, and Reggie Miller. Jordan was able to dominate them physically, while already being as or more athletic. Had Jordan (as a rookie) come to L.A. (a perennial target by all teams) and they had just signed 4 time allstar and gold medal winning Shaquille O’neal, Jordan’s career scoring average and shooting percentage would have suffered. His assist totals would have also suffered had he never had a teammate that was a consistent three-point threat instead of having multiple multi-time three point champions (Hodges, Paxton, Kerr, and Armstrong). His rebounding totals might have suffered playing in the western conference, but I suspect Jordan probably still would have out rebounded Kobe due to his extra girth and bigger/better hands. Conversely, had Kobe gone to the Bulls and been given the green light to shoot early in his career, it’s possible Kobe could have put up similar scoring numbers as Jordan. This due to the scoring marks Kobe does hold, including being the only person outside of Wilt Chamberlain to score 80+ points in a game, score 50+ in 4 consecutive games, average 43.4 ppg for a month, and also the only person besides Wilt to have ten 50-point games in a season.

    That is why the debate about whether Kobe could be MJ’s equal continues to rage on.

    Posted by DOUBLECW | May 17, 2011, 2:26 am
    • Thanks for the read DoubleCW – but I do not agree with your information.

      Kobe’s career FT% is 83.7. Jordan’s career FT% is 83.5. Remove the 2 years with the Wizards, and he is 83.8%. To say that Kobe is a better free throw shooter is a stretch.

      I disagree that Jordan’s shooting percentage would have suffered if he played with Shaq. Dywane Wade shot 50% for 2 consecutive years while playing with Shaq. If Wade can do it, why not Jordan? Moreover, even when playing without Shaq, Kobe’s FG% did not see improvement. It actually decreased.

      I also disagree that his assist total would have suffered. Remember, Jordan average a career high 8 assists in 1989 with a starting lineup that included Brad Sellers, Bill cartwright, and a very young Pippen and Grant. In sum, other than Craig Hodges, none of them could spread the floor.

      The one thing I will agree with is that Kobe could have matched Jordan’s scoring output. But there is no way that he would have shot the same percentage. Jordan simply had the ability to get clean, inside baskets that Kobe could not.

      Its no debate.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 17, 2011, 10:39 am
      • to the NBA REALIST, your a total fucking tool if you for 1 second wouldnt think with kobe GETTING MJS foul calls (which save MISSED SHOTS) for FG% and the wack defenses he played back in the day that kobes FG% wouldnt or couldnt have been 2 or 3 % pts higher to match MJ’s god you fucking people are literally too stupid to understand basketball and the “MJ RULES” take your mouth off his cock, he was NOT a GOD!!! dude was in a different era where it was way easier to score!!

        Posted by Chris | May 19, 2011, 1:16 pm
  14. IM gonna lay this out there for all the JORDAN cock suckers, and the KOBE HOMERS, (im a kobe fan since he was in high school) never thought he would be a LAKER, (ive grown up purple and gold) so to watch him and jordan both play and in their primes, and all this back and forth with numbers is NONSENSE, point fucking BLANK!! LEAVE that out please!!! bottom line is this and this alone, MICHAEL jordan was the 1st in the start of the common ATHLETE in basketball, and with that he had the SKILL SET that kobe has!! that blend had never been seen before Jordan!! the DEFENDERS and guys jordan played against PALED in comparison to defenders of todays (kobes generation) Jordan came 1st therefore he will always or MOSTLY be looked at as the best player ever, if kobe was put in MJ’s spot he would without question put up the same numbers!! seriously if THUNDER dan Majerle ever had to man up on KOBE BRYANT in his prime what would happen?? kobe would go off for “AT LEAST” 45 pts!! put jordan as a rookie in 1996 and on the lakers and his stats would mirror MJ’s at best, the double and triple teaming does make a difference and all this babble about the AMAZING hand checking that stopped players like jordan or slowed him down are a fucking FAD!!! that doesnt mean shit, not to mention MJ was the poster player for the NBA and got every feasable and possible call from the 1991 season until he retired in 1998, the wizard years dont count cause the league wasnt his any longer!! jordan never in his career scored 81 pts on ANY GIVEN game let alone in which it was all in a 48 minute game!! he scored something like what 69 in an overtime game in which there where not the defenses or defenders like we have in todays game, the difference within the kobe vs MJ debate for me is a trade off, MJ was stronger and had way better control with the ball because of his large hands, but kobe had and i will go to my grave saying this had an ability to take over a game and literally hit shots from EVERYWHERE inside the half-court line unlike anything MJ can or was ever able to do!! dont hate kobe cause his team gave up in the playoffs this year Pau, lamar, the whole bench, he was also not 100% whether he will admit it or not!! but some of the things kobes done have astonished me more than anything jordan did, the NBA was depleted when JORDAN was winning titles like it or not!!!! its probably a TIE between those two guys, but to NOT have kobe in the debate or NOT have him in the top 10 off all-time is BLATANT HATING point blank!!! hilarious to read all these JORDAN whores!!!!! wake up and stop hating and enjoy KOBE hes the closest thing to seeing your beloved MJ youll ever see again in your lives TROLLS!!!

    Posted by Chris | May 19, 2011, 1:11 pm
  15. hahaha, this is ridiculous!!!! there is no greatest of all time,thats just stupid, THERE IS JUST GREAT TEAMS, proof of this are plenty, say like 2003 2004 lakers, 1999 houston etc.., team chemistry is huge factor, dont belive me, KENDRICK PERKINS, AND ILL JUST LEAVE AT THaT

    but anyways to put something in favor of KOBE, if jordan would of never had pippen he would of never WON ANYTHING, and thats a fact!! PIPPEN WAS the real glue to the team, and 93-94 season was SOLID PROOF of this.
    BUT, nobody notices this, if pippen wasnt in the equation we wouldnt be talking about jordan right now..

    but i have to give KOBE ALOT of credit, BECAUSE he went back to back championships with comepletely different TEAMS!!, I DONT THINK ANOTHER PLAYER HAS DONE THIS WHEN ALSO BEING THE STAR, some say SHAQ WAS THE STAR of the team OF THE FIRST THREEPEAT, when this is not true, for me they were YING-YANG COMPARISON; THEY FED OFF EACHOTHER, YES I KNOW ONEAL WENT TO MIAMI AND won another ring, and put some incredible numbers and ULTIMETLY DIDNT WIN FINALS MVP, WIERD HUH..



    Posted by daniel | May 19, 2011, 4:36 pm
  16. well said daniel, also to point out how right you are about Pippen, when JORDAN left for his baseball fiasco after HE HAD too cause he had his pops KILLED off by not paying his gambling debts, and he was FORCED out of the league for a few years, thats a whole different story though, well anyways, in 93-94 pippen was the BEST player in the NBA!!! what the hell does that tell you??? exactly! and also people love to NOT talk about how a 20 yr old KOBE BRYANT in their 1st title year and every one of the SHAQ era rings was the GO TO guy when it mattered, shaq sat the PINE and watched and CHEERED kobe on cause of the hack a shaq technique!! in INDIANA game 5 kobe CARRIED the lakers to a ROAD victory!! shaq sitting and watching!!! its hilarious people try to brush kobe off like hes NOTHING compared to jordan, hes the greatest player ive seen play! in todays game to go off on a TEAM and score 62 pts in 3 quarters with some REST, jordan never did that 1 time!! EVER!!!! shows you how GREAT kobe is right there!!

    Posted by Chris | May 20, 2011, 9:23 am


  1. […] he clearly has an edge over Bynum. Gasol – the de facto “NBA’s most skilled big” until his disastrous Mavericks series last year, has always been an effective passer from most areas around the court. In a high post set […]

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