Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Contrasting and Comparing Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Duncan's teams may have had more wins in the regular season than Kobe's teams, but Duncan didn't really win more counting the playoffs. Kobe went 4-2 vs Duncan in the playoffs. The 2 losses were when he was a young Kobe and in 03 when LAL was trying to make 4 consecutive finals winning 4 in a row, which is nearly unheard of. Since BOS's monopoly on the nba in the 60s/70s, only LAL in the 80s with stacked teams and MIA in recent years with loaded teams in a very weak conference have been able to do this. Duncan always had a quality cast every single year, while Kobe didn't have this luxury in the middle of his prime(05-07) nor his last three seasons. Even counting 2 finals appearances while winning one in Duncan's twilight years with stacked teams, he still managed one fewer finals appearance than Kobe. Duncan's teams also flamed out 4x in his 8 final seasons in the playoffs, losing in the first round 3x. Each time, his teams were loaded. Could anyone see this ever happening to a Kobe team where he had reasonable help? Otherwise, well-written article. I just disagree with Duncan being successful/winnier even from a team perspective than Kobe, and certainly not from an individually perspective.