Frequent listeners of “The Bill Simmons Podcast” are well aware that the titular host will often try to run (sometimes spicy) takes he’s come up with past his guests of the day in the hopes that they’ll agree with him. In the case of his “Tim Duncan over Kobe Bryant” take, that isn’t exactly how things went with recent guests Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes.
Barnes (who memorably played both against and with Bryant) and Jackson (who won his only ring with Duncan) both took Bryant, and hearing the reasons for that choice from two of Bryant’s contemporaries is an interesting listen:
If you had to pick one player to build a team around, would it be Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan?@BillSimmons, @DaTrillStak5, and @Matt_Barnes22 choose one. #BSPodcast pic.twitter.com/sLdSQrbsMS— The Ringer (@ringer) May 22, 2020
There is no sports conversation more tired (and often intellectually dishonest) than the GOAT debate, or debates about players’ place in history in general, but one of the interesting things about Bryant’s place in it is something my friend Coach Pete likes to point out a lot:
The difference between how players view Kobe and how media members and other team's fans view him always makes me laugh. https://t.co/Sk7rF4zGEe— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) May 23, 2020
Career TS%— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) May 23, 2020
Duncan = 55.1%
Kobe = 55.0%
Duncan's always been painted as the wholesomest purveyor of basketball fundamentals while Kobe was the chuckiest chucker who ever chucked.
You'd think they wouldn't have nearly identical efficiency considering how they were portrayed. https://t.co/kjTZOFFCbu
And he has a point. From Shaquille O’Neal (who of course played with both Kobe and LeBron and against Michael Jordan) to Allen Iverson (whose career also overlapped with all three) there is no doubt: Kobe Bryant should be among the names thrown around when we discuss who the best player in NBA history might be. How often do we hear the same argument made for Duncan?
Look, neither the GOAT debate nor any of these hypothetical, “who had the better career?” arguments will ever be definitively won or lost. It’s all super subjective, and everyone (yes, even, unfortunately, Paul Pierce) is entitled to their opinion on it. Jackson and Barnes’ thoughts on the Duncan vs. Bryant “debate” are unlikely to change anything for people who have already decided their opinion, but it’s still fascinating to hear a Duncan teammate join the chorus of those saying Bryant is better, and should be appreciated more in these historical discussions.
Perhaps in the end, that’s the greatest tribute to Bryant’s basketball legacy: Just how many people he destroyed that are happy to come forward to argue his greatness. Wherever you think he ranks all-time, that definitely says something.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.