Yes, this post is about sports. If that doesn’t interest you, don’t read it. This was a big week for Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce. Bryant passed Shaquille O’Neal for #5 on the all-time NBA scoring list and now has more than 28,600 points for his career. And Pierce passed Larry Bird for #2 on the all-time Boston Celtics scoring list and now has almost 22,000 points for his career.
But these are very different achievements. Paul Pierce is a nice player and he’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday, but Kobe is all-time great. I saw a guy the other day who argued, in fact, that Kobe is actually underrated on a career scale because he’s rarely mentioned in the truly elite all-time category as one of the top 5 or 6 players to ever play the game. And I think he at least belongs in that discussion, though I wouldn’t put him in my top 5.
Kobe will almost certainly end up no worse than #3 on the all-time scoring list, passing Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. He needs less than 3,000 points to pass Wilt and less than 4,000 points to pass Michael, which he should do easily. If he plays long enough, he has a shot at Karl Malone (he needs about 9,000 points) and a long shot at Kareem Abdul Jabbar (he needs almost 10,000 points). But he’s more than a scorer. Like Jordan, he’s also a great defender. He’s been on the NBA all-defensive team 11 times in his career. And of course, he has 5 championships.
So where would I put him on my all-time list of NBA players? I think there are 5 players who are all but untouchable at this point: Jordan, Magic, Bird, Russell and Chamberlain. I think they’re the top 5 players ever to play the game and I find it hard to believe that anyone will ever crack that list. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others who should be in the conversation, at least. Kareem and Oscar Robertson certainly have to be in the discussion and I think Kobe is right there with both of them. I’d put him somewhere between 6-9.
Larry Bird was interviewed the other day and he was asked who he would rather have on his team, Lebron James or Kobe Bryant and he said it was an easy choice for Kobe because he wins championships. Lebron shrinks under the pressure; Kobe thrives on it, just like Jordan, Magic and Bird did. All they cared about was winning championships. And that’s what Kobe said when he hit #5 on the list this week, that all he wants is a 6th ring. And he means it.
Paul Pierce will make the hall of fame, but I don’t think anyone would seriously list him among the top 5 Celtics of all time, much less the top 10 players of all time. He’s a great player, but he’s not a legendary player. I wouldn’t put him in the top 50 of all time. But Kobe belongs in the top ten.