The Kobe Canard

Every time the Lakers win another big game, out come the Kobe Bryant partisans who want to argue that he’s not only a very talented basketball player but literally the best player in the league right now or one of the greatest players of all time. Preposterous comparisons get made to Michael Jordan. On the Jordan issue, I’ll just say again what I’ve said before — Jordan scored more points, did his scoring more efficiently, was a better rebounder, and dished more assists. The essence of being the best to ever play the game is that lots of very good basketball players (viz: Kobe Bryant) are substantially worse than you are.

Kobe’s just had an unusual career. The pre-Gasol Lakers were slightly worse than the Pau-led Memphis Grizzlies teams of those years. But Memphis is a small market and the Grizzlies have no franchise legacy, so Pau Gasol wasn’t a well-known player when he got shipped to LA to join forces with Kobe and return the Lakers to contention whereas Kobe was a “star.” And not just a star, but a star who’d already won multiple championship rings on teams led by Shaquille O’Neal but that made Kobe super-popular because perimeter players are always more popular than big men (during the heyday of the Yao-McGrady Rockets, it was McGrady who had the best-selling jersey in China) and thus was poised to reap the credit when his team improved.

None of which is to deny that Kobe is a good player. He scores a ton, and it’s pretty efficient. But he’s not dramatically better than any number of other wing players who just haven’t had the same career trajectory. Paul Pierce, for example, actually has very similar numbers but he’d never played on a really good team before teaming up with Kevin Garnett so people have a much better understanding of his status as a good player on a good team who’s still far worse than the Jordans and the Jameses of the world.