With Spurs forward Tim Duncan recently capturing his 5th NBA title, a lot of debate has ensued on whether or not he has taken the title of Greatest Player of the 2000’s away from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Don’t get me wrong; Duncan is more than qualified to be in this discussion with 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs and not one losing season. But here are 4 reasons why he still comes in second to Kobe:
- Adversity. A great man once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” If there’s anything that Duncan’s career lacks, it’s challenge and controversy. Having been in the same system with the same Hall of Fame coach with mostly the same supporting cast his entire career has been smooth sailing for Duncan. Meanwhile, Kobe has thrived with far less in terms of coaching and supporting casts. Could Duncan have taken a team that started Smush Parker & Chris Mihm to the playoffs? I think not. Add in the friction with Shaq, being blamed for the fall of a dynasty, playing through multiple injuries and a rape accusation and you have a guy whose resilience has elevated his legend. To go through a rebuilding phase and still come out with as many championships as the guy who plays for a consistent winner says a lot about Kobe’s greatness.
- Individual Achievements. When talking about team accomplishments, it’s hard to find anybody in the NBA with a better resume than Tim and the Spurs over the last decade and some change. However, when talking about individual accomplishments, Kobe is by far the more decorated player (2-time scoring champion, 11-time All-NBA First Team, 9-time All-Defensive First Team, 16-time All-Star, 4th leading scorer all time, 2nd greatest scoring performance ever, the list goes on and on).
- Best Player in the World. Don’t get me wrong, Duncan dominated in his heyday, averaging double-doubles and winning two consecutive MVP awards in 2002 and 2003. In spite of this, Duncan was overshadowed in his prime by one of the more dominant forces the league has seen in Shaquille O’ Neal. During his prime, Kobe was the undisputed best player in the world, putting on jaw-dropping scoring displays (see the entire 2005-2006 season). Until LeBron took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, the Black Mamba reigned supreme as the most dangerous force on the court.
- Aging and Still Dominating. Many will see this point and argue that Duncan is playing very well for a 37-year-old big man. While this is true, 15 and 9 is a far cry from the 22 and 12 he averaged in his prime. The last time we saw a healthy Kobe, he was averaging 27.3 points per game and matched a career-high in assists per game (6.0). Although the athleticism is not what it used to be, Kobe has found a way to maintain his high level of play through altering his game to a more cerebral one. Having a mental makeup only matched by that of Michael Jordan, Kobe’s game is not one that can be slowed by age.
There is no doubt that both players will go down in the annals of NBA history as two of the greatest at their respective positions and all-time. However, when it comes to the discussion of the face of the NBA in the 21st Century, there is no one more deserving than the Black Mamba.