At this past February’s All-Star media day, Dwyane Wade said “when you look back at this era there’s going to be a lot of players that you can pick from. You can talk about their greatness. This is a good era of basketball, and it would be led by Kobe Bryant-who was the greatest player of our era.”
Nothing against the league’s writers and voices as I aspire to be one in the future, but I don’t think there’s a better barometer of your greatness than when you are praised by your peers, especially from a player like Wade, who is considered one of Kobe’s greatest rivals at the shooting guard position.Now, I’m aware that Tim Duncan has two most valuable player awards to Kobe’s one, however the MVP award is voted on by a panel of journalists and broadcasters.
So there’s that.
Need further proof that Bryant marginally edges Duncan in the best player of this generation debate? Glad you asked.
Tim Duncan has been fortunate enough to play under one coach, Gregg Popovich, throughout the entire duration of his career. He’s also had a similar supporting cast in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for most of his career, with the Spurs’ management rotating pieces that fit around those three players.
Quick tangent. In a season where Duncan was limited to 30 minutes a game by Popovich to keep him fresh for the playoffs, Bryant was run into the ground by Mike D’Antoni during the last two weeks of the regular season in an effort just to get the Lakers into the playoffs.
It’d be blasphemy to say that Duncan isn’t proven with Popovich. But in the very small sample size of what we’ve seen of the Spurs without Duncan, they’ve been alright. On November 29th, 2012, Popovich was fined $250,000 for sending his three stars and Danny Green home to Texas before a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat. Even without their four best players, the Spurs went toe-to-toe with Miami until a late dagger three from Ray Allen that gave the Heat a 105-100 victory.
In 2004-05, the Spurs played 16 games without Duncan and were 9-7 in those games. Not too bad.
What I’m trying to say is, we’ve seen Kobe succeed without Phil Jackson (at least individually), but we haven’t witnessed a season where Duncan has excelled without Popovich. Again, I’m sure Duncan would be able to, but we don’t live in a world of ifs, ands or buts. Kudos to Pop and Timmy for maintaining such a harmonious relationship for 16 years and counting though.
Also consider this.
Kobe has won five championships with two completely different teams. Three with Shaq and that crew, and two with Pau and co. The Black Mamba’s third and fourth championship came seven years a part. Seven. Between 2002 and 2009, we saw President Bush hand off the baton to President Obama, but Kobe’s excellence never wavered. He’s Vino, he gets better with age.
Duncan’s last championship came in 2007, so if he wins the title this year then that last point becomes moot, but I wouldn’t bet against LeBron James this year.
Then there’s something we don’t discuss much because of how much we respect Duncan, but over the past several years Tony Parker has slowly but surely eclipsed Duncan as the best player and the driving force behind the San Antonio Spurs dynasty.
The last time Kobe was the second best player on the Los Angeles Lakers was in 2004 when Shaq held that distinction. In 2004, the only human being who could stop Shaquille O’Neal was Shaquille O’Neal. Since reaching his apex as a player, Bryant has not played second banana to anyone since last year’s Olympics (to LeBron).
Watching Duncan’s Spurs sweep the Lakers without Kobe was a sight for sore eyes. Because for so long, we have been promised three things in life: death, taxes and the greatness of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.
Why can’t we just throw this best player of this generation discussion out the window and just enjoy these two players for what they do while it still lasts?