Take a look at these three groups of players:
Group A: Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Julius Erving.
Group B: Lebron James, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone
Group C: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
What’s the difference between these groups? Players in Group A have each won one MVP award since 1980. The players in Group B all won two MVPs, and the players in group C won three MVPs or more. The players in the third group are considered the best players in the history of the league. If Kobe Bryant wants to be remembered as the greatest player to ever play the game, he needs to win two more MVPs before such an argument could be warranted.
Kobe’s tumultuous career has been widely documented and criticized. His playing style is considered selfish and his personality has been called abrasive, cocky, and egotistical. The media has perceived him as cold, awkward, and even aloof.
Kobe’s image hit an all-time low in 2004 as his sexual assault case was brought to the public and teammate Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. Kobe continued to be criticized for his selfish style, poor shot selection, and inability to lead his team far into the playoffs. In 2007, Kobe’s image reached another low. Kobe, growing ever frustrated with his team and lack of playoff success, criticized teammate Andrew Bynum and eventually demanded a trade in the off-season.
For the first 3/4th of his career, Kobe had his reputation tarnished by teammates, rape allegations, high school coaches, and sportswriters across the country. The 2008 season was the beginning of Kobe’s rehabilitation. His team played above expectations (Andrew Bynum was responsible for much of their success), and Kobe resumed his play as a devastating combo guard. The Lakers eventually traded for Pau Gasol, went to the NBA Finals, and Kobe won his first and only MVP award of his career. The following summer, Kobe led the Men’s Olympic Basketball Team to the gold medal. Kobe played as a perfect teammate and saved his best performances for the most critical junctures of the tournament.
Videos like the following one were also responsible for showing Kobe as a cooler, more likable athlete.
With all of the criticism Kobe has faced throughout his career, it’s no surprise he has only won one MVP. The MVP award is highly subjective and is dependent on the NBA landscape.
Kobe has won 1 League MVP, 2 Finals MVPs, and 2 All-Star MVPs during his career. For comparison, Michael Jordan has won 5 League MVPs, 6 Finals MVPs, and 3 All-Star MVPs. Magic Johnson has won 3 League MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, and 2 All-Star MVPs. Tim Duncan has won 2 League MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, and 1 All-Star MVP.
As highly decorated as Kobe has been in his career, he’s come short of winning as many MVP awards as some of his peers. Kobe’s won 5 total MVP awards to Tim Duncan’s 6, Magic Johnson’s 8, and Michael Jordan’s ridiculous 14. If Kobe wants to be mentioned in the same breath as these great players, he should push towards winning another MVP award in addition to his ultimate goal of winning more championships.