We’ve been spoiled by the staying power of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. What they have both just accomplished this season, in their 17th and 16th season respectively is unimaginable. Both players were rightfully named to the All-NBA First Team last week alongside Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
There are no words in the English language that can properly express my admiration for Bryant and Duncan to be voted as two of the top five best players in the league at this stage of their careers.
The first time Duncan made the All-NBA First Team was in 1997-98. His teammates on that team were Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and a guy named Michael Jordan.
‘The Big Fundamental’ was drafted first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1997 Draft. The only players who are still playing in the NBA from that draft class are Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady and Duncan.
The first time Bryant made the All-NBA First Team was in 2001-02. His teammates on that team were Shaq, T-Mac, Jason Kidd and Duncan.
The Black Mamba was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 Draft. The only players who are still playing in the NBA from that draft class are Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and Derek Fisher.
Read those last four paragraphs again to let it sink in.
Bryant and Duncan are anomalies, outliers, not normal, etc.
When their peers they were drafted with are all either a shell of their former athletic selves or have transitioned into coaching basketball, these two have remained at the top of their profession as excellent basketball players.
One last tidbit that amazes me before I move into the premise of this column: Bryant and Duncan shared the cover of Sports Illustrated on May 31, 1999. Fourteen years later, the two of them were named to the All-NBA first team in May of 2013.
That type of sustained excellence is unheard of in North American professional sports. We see veterans stick around to provide a locker room presence, but to be the one of the best players on a championship contending team like Duncan or to be the reason your team makes the playoffs like Bryant? Once in a blue moon.
Only Kevin Garnett and the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter can even be mentioned in that conversation for this generation.
Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs are set to face the Miami Heat in the NBA finals starting Thursday, June 6th.
If the Spurs end up being crowned champions, it will be Duncan’s fifth title in his career, equaling Bryant’s output. So naturally, the pundits and fans want to know which one of these wily veterans are the best of their generation.
Let’s use this as a starting point.