ESPN talking head Stephen A. Smith was a recent guest on the “I Am Athlete” podcast with Brandon Marshall, and he was asked who his top five all-time NBA players are. Smith lists Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson.
LeSean McCoy was surprised the late Kobe Bryant wasn’t in his top five, but Smith gave a measured answer as to why he didn’t include the Lakers legend. Smith is right, Bryant isn’t top five all time. But that’s no shade. He’s somewhere in the top 10, just not that elite group of five.
Stephen A Smith explains why Kobe isn’t on his Top 5 of all time
— Hot Freestyle (@HotFreestyle) September 6, 2022
Kobe stans were incensed and enraged and fired back on Twitter.
“Oh shut up. Just stop. I can’t take anybody seriously who don’t have Kobe on that list. Lebron over Kobe?! Offensively/defensively/championships…Kobe has the edge in all the categories that count,” said one user.
“Typical Stephen A word salad. He’s toeing the ESPN company line in discrediting Kobe’s legacy,” said another.
Nothing polarizes people more than top five all-time lists about the NBA, and two players in particular that get their respective fan bases’ outraged are Bryant and LeBron.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Saying someone is top 10 all time isn’t a diss or discrediting their legacy. This is the history of the NBA with a lot of incredible players that have played in this league.
Anyway, it’s Friday, so we at The Shadow League would like to anger you as you head into your weekend. You’re welcome. It’s the least we could do.
Jordan and LeBron are unassailable in the top five. When you look at all the relevant metrics and the eye test. They both pass with flying colors.
Speaking of relevant metrics, we are not using championships as a metric. The NBA title is a team award, not an individual one. If titles are the metric, then Bill Russell is the greatest player of all time. As great as he was, we know that’s not true.
Comparing players across eras is also challenging because of the evolution of athletes.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. is a better athlete than any NBA player from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. That’s not only a fact, that’s science.
Points per game and all those counting stats are nice, but they don’t necessarily tell you if someone is better. It could mean they just take a lot of shots and dominate the basketball.
WS/48 is one of our favorite stats. That is the estimated amount of wins a player contributes per 48 minutes, the length of a regulation basketball game. League average is 100. Did you know Bryant isn’t even in the top-50 all-time in career WS/48?
Did you also know that Bryant never led the league in WS/48 in his entire career? Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar led the league in WS/48 nine times each, LeBron five times.
Another important stat is win shares. This is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. Bryant isn’t even in the top 15 in win shares. He is well behind Abdul-Jabbar (No. 1 all time), LeBron (No. 2 all time) and Jordan (No. 5 all time).
Let’s look at individual honors. Everyone in Smith’s top five has at least three league MVPs. Bryant has one. If you’re going to be in that group you need at least two.
Where Kobe does measure up is All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive appearances. Though those last three or four All-Defensive selections were honorific at best. He wasn’t playing elite defense all season late in his career.
Yes he has the “Mamba Mentality,” and he scored 81 points that time and he had the audacity and temerity to take and sometimes make big shots. An entire generation of kids whenever they throw a crumpled up piece of paper in the trash or a sock in a hamper yell “Kobe!” Like so many of the greats he made you feel something when you watched him. All of that is true.
But that doesn’t mean he’s one of the five greatest players of all time. He can be an all-time great and not top five. Both things can be true.
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