Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images /

10. Kobe Bryant

  • Resume: 20 seasons, 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards, 1 regular season MVP Award, 15-time All-NBA selection, 18-time NBA All-Star, 4-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 12-time NBA All-Defensive Team, NBA Slam Dunk champion, 2-time NBA leader in scoring, Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, NBA’s third all-time leading scorer
  • Stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, .447/.329/.837 shooting splits, 22.9 career PER, 172.7 win shares

I can already feel the seething anger of Lakers fans everywhere upon realizing how low the Black Mamba is ranked. But before you go all Kobe Death Glare on me, hopefully you’ve grown accustomed to this truth most NBA fans already recognize here in 2019.

Kobe is the second-greatest shooting guard to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. He’s the spiritual successor to, and closest imitation of, Michael Jordan. But if imitation is sincerest form of flattery, how can we say Kobe deserves better than the next few players when his whole career has been predicated on mimicking everything Jordan did?

Kobe stood alone among most modern players for his competitive fire. When he tore his Achilles at age 34, nobody ever doubted that he’d be back and better than ever. The man exuded confidence, so even though the percentages didn’t necessarily back up his reputation of being “legendarily clutch,” there were few players people were more afraid of with the ball in their hands and the game on the line.

As the face of a love-em-or-hate-em franchise, Kobe had his fair share of critics and outright trolls. From his trademark scowl to his inability to accommodate teammates, the Black Mamba wasn’t the easiest guy to like. But Bryant’s flaws stemmed from the same consuming, psycho-competitiveness he adopted from MJ. He essentially ran Shaq out of town after they won three consecutive championships together because he was ready to be the man.

After that, Kobe won two titles, but he’d never reach championship that sixth championship that would’ve put him level with MJ. Unfortunately, that’s not all that separated Kobe from his muse. He never had a season in which he shot 47 percent from the field. His career peaks have since been bested by the likes of James Harden. So is it really so bad to say Kobe wasn’t quite as good as a handful of the greatest players to ever play the game?

From an individual standpoint, he was a lone gunslinger whose massive final contract left the Lakers in a tough place. But Vino aged remarkably well and got everyone drunk on what he could still do — even in that rough final season. Los Angeles was left with a nasty hangover when his retirement finally came, but even for one of the most polarizing superstars of all time, his legacy is unquestionable. Like him or not, Kobe Bryant’s longevity and scoring ability are legendary.

It’s only fitting he went out with a 60-point game in his NBA finale.

His “competitive fire” was more like a “competitive napalm.” He was a driving force in one of the most dominant playoff runs ever (15-1 in 2001). He was the guy who dropped 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. He was an unstoppable scorer who put up balanced stat lines for five title teams. He was the league’s biggest hero and its biggest villain at various points in his career. No matter where you stand, he was the last of a dying breed.