NBA History: 50 best NBA players of the 21st century

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Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

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50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 3. Kobe Bryant

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Kobe Bryant was a legend through and through, earning his spot on a great many NBA Mount Rushmores. While Bryant’s place among the greats has long been debated, no one doubts his inclusion in the conversation. Many consider him the next greatest two-guard in NBA history behind Michael Jordan. That’s a valid and well-reasoned stance. It’s also fitting for a player who modeled his game so heavily around Jordan.

Kobe started his career quickly and made a couple All-Star games even before the turn of the century. Like Shaq, he was an integral part of the Lakers’ early 2000s three-peat. LA won the title in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and while Bryant didn’t win Finals MVP during that stretch, his contributions were great in magnitude.

The years following the Lakers’ three-peat were rocky. LA had both highs and lows, with coaching changes, a Finals loss in 2004, Shaq’s departure, and even a trade request — one that Bryant would quickly back out of. In 2007-08, however, Bryant won the MVP award and vaulted LA back into firm contention. The Lakers made the Finals but lost to Boston. That was followed by championships in 2009 and 2010, for which Bryant won Finals MVP both times.

The 21st century includes four NBA championships, 16 All-Star appearances, an MVP trophy, two scoring titles, and two Finals MVPs for Kobe Bean Bryant. He was not only a gifted perimeter scorer, but one of the best defensive guards in the league. He was the backbone of the NBA’s most historic franchise for two decades and has etched his place in the history books. Naturally, he gets a top-three spot.