NBA History: Where Does Kobe Bryant Rank?

By Jason Fryer

With Kobe scoring his 28,597 he surpassed his old teammate (Shaquille O'Neal), and now is ranked 5th on the all time NBA scoring list. This lead to me start and ponder who I feel are the 10 greatest players in the history of the NBA.

1. Michael Jordan

With all due respect to the other greats that are apart of this list, there is no question in my mind that Michael Jordan is the best player in the history of the NBA. MJ won 6 NBA Championships (and he won the finals MVP each time while never loosing a NBA Finals series), 5 NBA regular season MVP Awards, 10 scoring titles (and is number one in points per game, 30.1), scored the most points in a NBA playoff game (63 in the Boston Garden while only playing in 18 regular season games that season) and won a defensive player of the year award. There wasn't anything that Michael Jordan couldn't do and didn't do and at the same time (no offense to the Rockets) but had he decided to not go play baseball I believe he would have won at least 7 straight NBA Championships.

Everyone has their "best Jordan moment," whether it's the 63 points in a playoff game, the shot over Elho, or his last shot in a Bulls uniform to win his 6th NBA Championship. Although all of those moments are great, in my mind there's one moment that ranks at the top of my list the flu game. During the 1997 NBA Finals, just before game 5 MJ came down with the flu. This was one of, if not the most important game during the Bulls dynasty as the Bulls just lost two straight games and the Jazz had all the momentum during that series.

Jordan refused to let the Bulls loose the game and hit a crucial 3 with under 1 minute remaining in the game. Jordan finished with 38 points and carried the Bulls to a game 5 win. Without the classic flu game, the Bulls would have been forced to a game 7 for the first time in the NBA Finals, and the Jazz might have won the series. This game proved that there was only one Jordan and won't ever be another player like MJ.

Charlotte Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan

Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan in Atlanta Hawks 102-73 preseason loss to the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC.

2. Bill Russell

This is a place where many people believe I'm wrong, but in my mind Bill Russell is the only person that's in the same category as Jordan. Russell won 9 straight championships and 11 championships in a 13-year span. As the leader of a team, this is a statistic that we'll never see again. Russell also ranks second all time in rebounds (remember he played in the same era as Wilt Chamberlain), was a 12 time all-star, and won 5 regular season MVP Awards, and the NBA Finals Award is named "The Bill Russell Award." My friend Paul says that Russell played in a NBA that didn't feature nearly the amount of teams that are around today. Though that is a true statement, Russell and the Celtics had to face the same team 10-12 times per year during the regular season and then face those same teams in the post season. Russell was the greatest defensive player of all time and played against one of the most dominant players at his own position (Chamberlain) and defeated him in the finals all but one time.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Most would say why not Bird, Magic, The Big O, Wilt, or Kobe at this spot? Although the players I just mentioned above will all eventually make there way onto this list, I feel Kareem is the third best player of all-time. The leading scorer in the history of the NBA, he perfected one of the most recognizable shot in NBA history, the skyhook. Kareem won 6 NBA Championships (5 with the Lakers), went to 19 All-Star Games 6 NBA MVP Awards (most all-time), and 2 Finals NBA MVP Awards. Lastly, when the NBA needs to create a rule change, which only shows the domination that Kareem had on this sport. In this case, in college at UCLA Kareem was told he wasn't allowed to dunk, which allowed for him to perfect the "Skyhook" and create a shoot that was rarely used and became a staple with "The Captain." Many realize how long Kareem's career was (1969-1989), but few realize how effective he still was even at the end of his career (1985-1986 season still averaged over 23 points per game) and he never averaged less than 10 points per game in a season. Kareem at times gets over looked as people need to start to realize what Kareem did on a basketball court was tremendous.

4. Magic Johnson

Magic, along with another player who will show up on this list (he played for the Celtics hint-hint) transformed the NBA, and made the 1980's the "Golden Era." At a time when the NBA was at its lowest point, and had many problems, Magic took the NBA by storm and brought "Showtime" to Los Angeles and the NBA. While playing for the Lakers, Magic won 5 NBA Championships, went to 9 NBA Finals, won 3 Finals MVP Awards, 3 regular season MVP Awards, and was a member of the greatest basketball team ever assembled (1992 Dream Team). What Magic Johnson did as a rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers was something that might never show up again. During the 1980 NBA Finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went down and was unable to play in game 6 1980 NBA Finals. A rookie point guard named Magic Johnson went to head coach (Paul Westhead) and said he would take the place of center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and play center on the road in Philadelphia. Not only did Magic play center, but he almost had a triple double while playing center (42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists). This shows why he's one of the five greatest players in NBA history and oh by the way IS THE GREATEST LAKER OF ALL TIME.

5. Wilt Chamberlain

Many argue that Wilt was the most dominant player to ever step on a basketball court. Wilt won 4 NBA MVP Awards, 2 Finals MVP's, the most rebounds of all-time, is 4th on the NBA Scoring list, and is the only person to score 100 or more points in a NBA game. Many said that Wilt played in an Era that didn't feature a center that wasn't nearly on the same level as Wilt. This statement is true in many cases except when he went up against the greatest defensive center of all-time (Bill Russell), as the majority of his career he went up against Russell's Celtics. Also, many feel that Shaq went up against some of the greatest centers of all time but I disagree with that. Shaq only went up against a few great centers in the early and mid part of his career (Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson), and by the time he reached his peak (won his MVP Award in 2000) all of those centers were either out of their prime or retired. Like Shaq, Wilt would have dominated in any Era no matter what and I feel he would have won at least 8 Championships had he not played the prime of his career against the greatest winner of all time.

6. Larry Bird

Like Magic, Larry Bird took the NBA by storm and helped change the NBA forever. Just as stated in the documentary A Courtship of Rivals on HBO, as great as Michael Jordan was, it was Larry and Magic who saved the NBA and brought the "Golden Era" to the NBA. Bird won 3 Regular Season MVP Awards, 3 NBA Championships, won 2 Finals MVP Awards, went to 2 other NBA Finals, was the leader of one of the greatest teams in NBA History (1985-1986 Celtics) and was one of the best clutch players of all time. Many would wonder why I placed Magic ahead of Bird, and there are two separate reasons for this: one, Magic defeated Bird 2 of the 3 times when the two met in the NBA Finals, and Bird himself admitted that Magic was at the time the greatest during the 1987 NBA Finals. Bird also wasn't higher on this list because even though he had 9 of the greatest seasons in NBA history, his last four years weren't up to his standards and a few weeks ago even admitted that he would have retired earlier in his career had Len Bias not passed away.

7. Kobe Bryant

I'd like to welcome Kobe Bryant to the top 10 greatest basketball players' list and the 2nd greatest shooting guard of all-time. Kobe has won 5 NBA Championships (and appeared in two other championships), won 2 NBA Finals MVP's, 1 regular season MVP Award, 9 times on the first team all-defensive team, and scored the second most points in a NBA game all-time (81). Before Shaq and Kobe broke up, the Lakers were seen as Shaq's team, and Kobe as the "2nd part of the duo." Once Shaq was traded to Miami, we found out that Kobe was one of the greatest competitors and scorers of all time (see the 2005 Lakers vs. Suns series first round series), and with a little more help (thanks Memphis) people realized that he could be a leader of a tea to win multiple championships (even without Shaq). As great as Shaq was (which he was), he never won a championship as the dominant player once he left Los Angeles (the 2006 Heat was Wade's team), and is why I placed Kobe ahead of Shaq on this list.

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers

Guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of the Lakers 92-89 victory over the Nuggets at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA.

8. Tim Duncan

The Big Fundamental was the perfect player for the Spurs, and helped create the greatest Power Forward-Center combination in the history of the NBA (David Robinson). Duncan won 4 NBA Championships, (won each title against a different opponent and in each fashion (sweep, a 5 game series, a 6 game series, and a full 7 game series in the finals), won 3 Finals MVP awards, 2 Regular Season MVP Awards (back-to-back), and multiple times mentioned on the All-NBA 1st team defense. Though Tim Duncan wasn't the flashiest player or the most exciting player, he always had the Spurs at the top of the NBA and whenever the Spurs needed a dominant performance, it was Duncan who stepped up to the challenge and delivered. During the 2003 NBA Finals against the Nets (who were trying to force a game 7), it was none other than Tim Duncan who had one of the greatest (and most underrated) performances in the history of the NBA Finals. In Game 6, Duncan went 9 of 19 from the floor with 21 points, 20 Rebounds, 10 Assists, and 8 Blocks to help close out the Nets in 6 Games. Unfortunately for Duncan, many remember that series as David Robinson's last NBA game (and Robinson was also a tremendous player), but I feel more should remember that game as one of the most dominant performances in NBA history. Although Duncan wasn't one of the flashiest players of all-time, he was one of the most effective players of all time and should be recognized as the greatest power forward to ever play.

9. Oscar Robertson

The Big O is one of the most forgotten players in the history of the NBA. Robertson won a championship with Milwaukee (and Kareem), appeared in another finals series, was the 1964 MVP, and oh by the way averaged a triple double for an entire season. For a player to have 1 triple double during a season is an accomplishment, but to average one for an entire season is tremendous and a task I feel no one will ever accomplish (even LeBron). The Big O had 181 Triple-Doubles in his career; to put this in perspective for people, as many triple doubles as LeBron has already had in his career (32) he's still 149 away from reaching Oscar's record. In my mind, no one else will ever average a triple-double for an entire season again, and his record of 181 triple doubles will be difficult to reach.

10. Hakeem Olajuwon

The Dream and the Rockets were the only team (other than the Bulls) that was able to win a championship between the years 1991-1998. Hakeem had one of the best post-up games of all time, was amazing at creating his own shoot (created the Dream-shake), and was one of the best defensive players of all-time. He won 2 NBA Championships (also appeared in another finals series), won the Finals MVP during both championship series, twice won defensive player of the year (back-to-back), has the most blocks in the history of the NBA, and is 11th on the all-time scoring list. One of the most impressive feats that Hakeem had was that when he won both of his championships, he went up against the two best centers in the NBA at that time (Shaq and Ewing), and showed why he was the best center in the NBA throughout the 1990's. Hakeem played his best when the Rockets needed him most as in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals against the Knicks, it was Hakeem who stepped up and was tremendous (30 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks). Also, during the 1995 NBA Finals (in game 1 of the series) it was Olajuwon who lead the Rockets back after falling behind by 20 plus points scoring 31 points while dishing out 7 assists and leading the Rockets to a game one win on the road and eventually the NBA Title.

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