There’s something poetic about Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan retiring after the same season – and the manner they did.
Although Kobe and Tim weren’t drafted in the same year (’96 and ’97, respectively), they are essentially of the same crop or generation of NBA players. They were able to play in three decades. They were able to play against the likes of Michael Jordan and Karl Malone, and then the likes of Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett, and then the likes of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, and then the likes of Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. And they served as embodiments of two different player types at the opposite sides of the spectrum.
Their nicknames alone – “The Black Mamba” and “The Big Fundamental” – are already very telling of how much they were the antithesis of each other. Kobe played the wing; Tim was a big man. Kobe was flashy, relentless, ruthless, and aggressive; Tim was simple, restrained, calm, and prudent. Kobe destroyed opponents and awed audiences with his godlike skills; Tim faithfully played his designated role in the team, and opted to do the plain but reliable. Kobe was a spectacular warrior; Tim was efficiently dependable. The argument for being the better player can go either way – though I will argue for Kobe since I’m a Kobe fan/apologist – but both are top ten players of all time in my book nonetheless. Both are great in their own opposing ways.
I also think how their last season turned out was fitting to their respective player profiles.
Throughout his career, Kobe was expected to “carry the weight.” Even when he was supposedly the “sidekick” of Shaq, he wasn’t quite letting Shaq to carry alone the burden of leading the Lakers to a championship – heck, there’s an argument to be made that they were more of “equal partners” rather than “hero and sidekick.” And once Shaq was gone, the task of “carrying the weight” was solely on him until the end of his career. In his twilight years, he never had the luxury of having someone to pass the torch to – which Duncan was fortunate to experience – someone that would ease this weight off Kobe’s shoulders. Kobe never experienced having a Tony Parker and a Kawhi Leonard.
And because this “carrying the weight” factor was always there, Kobe was never provided with enough reason to be compelled to tone down his stubborn, “devil may care” mentality – which had been both a pro and a con during his career, and exclusively a con in his last seasons. Thus, even when he no longer had anything in his tank, he kept on shooting with the same recklessness and impatience he had when he still had the phenomenal basketball powers to justify the MO. The result? A painful, statistically appalling final season for him – he attempted about 17 shots a game but only made a mere 35.8% of them, and the Lakers had their worst regular season ever.
However, though it was not as ideal as a ring, his career still ended in a Kobe-worthy fashion. In his final game, he attempted 50 shots and scored 60 points (a flicker of the Kobe that could score 81), and willed his team to a come from behind victory.
On the other hand, Tim Duncan might not have been better than Kobe as a player, but he definitely had the more successful and “winnier” career. He had more season and Finals MVP’s , and had never missed the playoffs. He was more consistent and efficient than Kobe; however, he accomplishes this by going the unremarkable but fundamentally sound route. Hence, he (and the Spurs as a team) got the reputation of being boring. And since Kobe was infinitely more entertaining to watch, he was more celebrated and beloved than Tim.
However, unlike Kobe, Tim enjoyed belonging to a consistent, solid basketball program all throughout his career. Tim always had Coach Pop by his side, while Kobe didn’t always had Coach Phil, as the Lakers basketball philosophy had undergone a couple of changes during his career. So the Spurs were always in the playoffs, and were still in contention for a title in Duncan’s final season. He wasn’t put in the situation, as the season was ongoing, wherein he can inform everyone that he would be retiring after the season (since if they had won the championship, Duncan might have stayed for another season) just as Kobe did. Thus, with everyone aware of his impending retirement, Kobe was celebrated in his final season (he was even the top vote getter in the All-Star game; Duncan didn’t make the All-Star team), while Tim didn’t get attention – mirroring what was the case during their careers.
Or knowing Tim’s personality, he probably didn’t want to have the kind of farewell tour that Kobe had anyway, thus, only announced his retirement when the season was long over.
In the end, no matter the differences between Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, they have very important parallels: They were both winners. They were both champions (having five rings apiece). They are both legends. And the NBA will never be the same again without them.
|They will be missed.|