As Kobe Bryant waved to the audience with a minute remaining in Sunday’s NBA All-Star game, the audience all stood and applauded the man who had dominated basketball during the peak of his career. I too, applauded, as I looked back and thought of the great moments Kobe Bryant had during his career. As a fan since a young age, there are countless memories I have of watching Kobe play. His 81 point game against Toronto, his game-winning three pointer over Dwyane Wade, and his 61 points against New York in MSG are just some memories that come to mind. As a Boston Celtics fan, there is a hatred towards Kobe I have, as he was the main part of the Laker team that defeated Boston in the 2010 NBA Finals. Along with that hatred, however, there is a lot of respect. There is no question that he is one of the greatest players to ever play, but is he the greatest player of the 2000s? In an era packed with many legends, Kobe stands out as a major figure, but where is his place among the best of his generation?
As an individual basketball player, Kobe’s talents were never in doubt. His ability to score the basketball in every way was witnessed throughout his career. At a young age, he attacked the basket and then, as he got older, he developed a breath-taking mid range and three point shot. On defense, Kobe proved he was a quality ball-stopper, as he made the All-Defensive First Team nine times, a record shared with Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Michael Jordan. Kobe’s ability to hit clutch shots throughout his career was also apparent, as his game tying/winning efforts in the 2006 Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns sealed his fate as one of the greatest closers in NBA history. Legacy wise, during the 2000s, Kobe had seemingly done it all. In the 2000s, Kobe is a five-time NBA champion, a two-time Finals MVP, a two-time Scoring Champ, a three-time All Star Game MVP, a ten time all-star, and the 2008 MVP. His ability to win back-to back titles in 2009 and 2010 proved that he could carry a team (albeit with Pau) and win without Shaq. As a whole player, it is hard to go against Kobe during the 2000s.
However, there are several players that can legitimately contend with Kobe in the “greatest of the 2000s generation” discussion. Tim Duncan is a player that should certainly be considered. His fellow Laker teammate, Shaq, deserves consideration as well. Other great players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson also deserve mention. Even players who didn’t play for the entire 2000s, such as D-Wade and Lebron James, made their mark in the era. I believe Kobe was better than all of them during the 2000s. While Lebron is a dominant player in the 2010s- era, he was just one of many great players during the 2000s. He didn’t win much during the 2000s, yet his 2007 Playoff exploits earned him a mention here. D-Wade was a fantastic player in the 2000s, winning a scoring title and winning a championship and Finals MVP award in 2006. Had D-Wade won more in the 2000s and not later on, he could rival Kobe in many areas. D-Wade was a terrific scorer and defender and also proved himself in clutch moments. Dirk Nowitzki was a fabulous player, winning the MVP award in 2007. One of the greatest scorers and shooters ever, Dirk didn’t win any titles in the 2000s, which knocks him down a peg, but his efforts would soon be rewarded, as he propelled the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title. Allen Iverson was a fantastic, electric player. He lit up score sheets every night, and his ability to get steals was incredible, as he was always among the league-leaders. His clutch heart was also prevalent, hitting numerous big shots for Philadelphia throughout his career. He won the 2001 MVP award and was an All-Star ten times. Iverson propelled the Philadelphia Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals, where despite losing to the Lakers, he proved himself to be a legendary player in the making. However, it turned out that it would be his only trip, as he never won an NBA title, which knocks him down a peg on our list. Kevin Garnett is a player who could quite easily considered one of the best 2000s players. He won a title in 2008 with Boston Celtics, won MVP in 2004, was a ten time NBA All-Star and was on the Defensive First team eight times. His overall legacy stacks up well with Kobe Bryant, as he was a scorer as well as a defender. However, Kobe’s championships and Finals MVPs make him the much more dominant player during the era.
Now, there are only two players who can really contend with Kobe for the honor of being “Greatest Players of the 2000s”. The two players are Shaq and Tim Duncan. As for Shaq, he was the dominant player in the early 2000s. He and Kobe were an unstoppable duo during his tenure with the Lakers, as they completed the rare “three-peat” of winning three NBA titles in a row. Shaq was named Finals MVP for all his titles with the Lakers, making a good case for being the best player of the 2000s. He even won a fourth title with Miami and very much looked to be the best player of the 2000s. Yet Kobe’s later title wins and MVP award, along with Shaq’s eventual decline in the latter half of the 2000s lowers Shaq a little bit in the discussion. Shaq’s defensive production was also never as good as Kobe’s. As for Tim Duncan, the legendary Power Forward, he has arguably been as dominant throughout the 2000s as Kobe. Throughout the 2000s, Duncan proved he could be the best scorer on his team, constantly averaging 20+ points for many seasons. He was a terrific rebounder, averaging ten or more rebounds per game throughout the 2000s. He was also an amazing defender, being elected to the Defensive-First team seven times in the 2000s and winning four titles throughout the 2000s. He was named Finals-MVP three times. While Kobe has more titles than Tim Duncan, Duncan’s more Finals-MVPs show how dominant he truly was during the postseasons. His two MVPs are also more than Kobe’s lone 2008 MVP. His consistent great results put Duncan in a category only matched by Kobe. Due to this, I would consider Duncan to be the greatest player of the 2000s generation, not Kobe. While Kobe started and finished the decade on top, Duncan was right there with him. Duncan’s constant regular season and post season greatness outlast Kobe’s regular season and post-season exploits, as Duncan carried his teams to great records and deep post-season success. While Kobe’s post season and regular season success dipped for a few years, Duncan’s success in both remained constant. Kobe might have been the more marketable player, but Duncan, to me, remains the greatest of the 2000s.
It was bittersweet seeing Kobe playing his last All-Star game. He was one of the game’s greats and certainly one of the best players of all time. He was the face of a generation of players, and the entire NBA community will miss him when he retires after this season. He has influenced countless up and coming players and has left the game in good hands. He falls short to Tim Duncan on the “Greatest Players of the 2000s” list, but he is still one of the greatest to ever play the game. I and the entire NBA will miss seeing him play.