By Tim Cockes
Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have had two of the most legendary careers in basketball history. Coming into the league in the late 90s when the NBA needed a new superstar to have a longstanding and consistent career after the retirement of Michael Jordan. They needed one and got two. Duncan and Bryant have also had one of the best rivalries in NBA history. If one of their teams wasn’t winning the Western Conference it was usually because the other team had beaten them. Their teams have met seven times in the playoffs with the winner of the series winning the West each time. The Lakers have the edge with a record of 4-3. So how do you compare two future Hall of Fame players who are also top 15 players of all-time? I’m going to attempt to examine all factors and compare how these players will be remembered:
Note: In order to compare lasting career legacies, it’s necessary to do more than just compare numbers by themselves. These two are some of the greatest players of all-time, but if you want an answer to who’s ultimate legacy or rank will be higher, then you have to split hairs a little bit. For example, instead of just mentioning how many championships that they have won. I’ll instead refer to the amount of championships that they have won when they were the best player on the team. That would give Bryant two and Duncan three or debatably four.
The case for Kobe Bryant: Kobe is one of the best guards in basketball history. He has been an all-star 18 times, is third all-time in points, and has won five championships. Like I mentioned before, by my system he would have two championships. He is the second greatest guard behind Jordan, and scored the second most points in a game with 81. He has constituently been a dominant scorer and a clutch player. The argument for Kobe would be based around his longevity and consistency. He has been a great player for years and his toughness and competitive fire has been almost unmatched. He has been the best player on the Lakers since they traded Shaq to the Heat. The dominance in so many offense categories as well as being a great defender make Kobe one of the best ever. The argument against Duncan would be the fact that he has played under the same coach and has always had good players to play with, while it at times felt like Kobe was out there playing by himself.
The case for Tim Duncan: Tim Duncan is thought by many to be the greatest power forward of all-time. The case for him being ranked higher than Kobe would be based upon winning. Duncan has only played for one head coach and has held a winning percentage of 72 percent. Kobe has played for 10 coaches in his career. The longest tenured coach was Phil Jackson and he held a 66 percent winning percentage with him. Duncan has been the definition of a consistent leader delivering when it counted for his team. He has never missed the playoffs and never had his team win less than 50 games except for the 99’ season where only 50 games were played due to a lockout. The constant greatness for Duncan would be the reason that he would have a better legacy.
Why I give the edge to Duncan: First of all, there is no wrong answer to this debate. Both of these players are legends of the game. I give the edge of Duncan for a number of reasons. First, the point I mentioned about Duncan. He has a better win percentage than Bryant despite Kobe playing with another top 15 player in Shaq. He has never missed the playoffs while Kobe has. He has dominated on both sides of the ball while Kobe is much better on offense than defense despite being an above average defender. Also, he has won more championships when he was the best player on the team with at least three. Duncan also is known most likely to be the best power forward of all-time, while Kobe will always be behind Jordan as the best shooting guard of all-time (even though that might not be as strong of a point with Jordan being the greatest player ever). The commitment to teamwork and winning is what separates Tim Duncan from Kobe for me.
The fun part of these hypothetical debates is that there will never be a definitive answer and we get to argue about things like these for years. All basketball nerds rejoice as two amazing careers draw to a close and we get to look back on such fond memories.