Before the beginning of the last game of the year on April 13th, there was an insane frenzy in downtown Los Angeles. The day itself felt different. It felt like it was going to be a sad, yet joyous night celebrating the career of the “Black Mamba”.
With only 16 wins, it was a welcome relief to all fans that the season had finally reached its final game.The one truth in all of this was that at some point in the night, one of the greatest Lakers of all time was going to shoot his last jumper. The ticket prices were extravagantly high, as was the merchandise being sold in the building. My coworker spent $5,000 dollars on two tickets to see Kobe’s final game. “It was worth every penny,” he said.
While the Warriors were busy making history in Oakland, Kobe put on a show like no one ever had before. Unlike Peyton Manning, who was all but non-existent in the Super Bowl, Kobe saved one of his best games for last. Playing an exhausting 42 minutes, he almost single handedly gave the Lakers a final victory to close out the season.
People who weren’t even fans of basketball watched closely, understanding the significance of this last game. Kobe gave his fans the hope that they hadn’t had all year and finished the night by embracing the future of the Lakers: D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson. After the game was over, he serenaded his fans with a speech followed by an iconic Kobe-like quote: “Mamba Out”. It was beautiful, it was powerful, it was fun, and most of all it was Kobe.
The Big Fundamental retires
It was May 5th and the San Antonio Spurs were in a must win game down 3-2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It had been a hard fought series, but the Spurs had gaping holes in their game. They were old and nowhere near athletic enough to keep up with the ridiculously athletic Thunder. It was business as usual for Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan in particular looked out matched by Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter. Tim Duncan always played at an efficient pace, which is why the 40 year old was able to play for as long as he did.
After having a rough series and not getting over the 10 point mark prior to this game, he was set to start again. Duncan played well, scoring 19 points, though only collected 5 total rebounds. Despite that, the Spurs were defeated by Oklahoma City.
Duncan packed up his locker and left the game without giving an interview. It was suspected at the time that this might be Duncan’s final game, but he had not yet made that decision. After picking up his player option on June 28th, it was still up in the air if he was going to retire. On July 12th, he announced that he would retire. The 40 year old said in a wide ranging interview with ViVid Streaming.
“But when it’s time, it’s time. It’s time. I started not enjoying myself. It wasn’t fun at times. And I always said when that point comes when it’s not fun anymore then I’m done.”
No fanfare, no 60 point game, no “Duncan out”. It may not have been fair to the fans from the outside looking in that he left this way. However, to the San Antonio fans, this was the only way that Tim Duncan could have retired.
The great unnecessary debate
Now that both Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have retired, the great debate remains. Who was the better player? Lets take a look at the accolades courtesy of The Gadgent:
Both players have had an incredible career, and both are worthy of consideration as top 10 players of all time. Both also have stats that separate the two individually. Duncan has more all team defense selections. Kobe has more 1st team defense selections. Tim Duncan won the rookie of the year award. Kobe has two scoring titles. Duncan played in one more playoffs. Kobe has more 1st team and all team selections. Duncan has one more season MVP and Finals MVP. Kobe is the 3rd leading scorer of all time. So the question remains. Who had the better career?
Comparing Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan is like comparing a Ferrari to a pickup truck. Kobe was a scorer and a connoisseur of finesse. Duncan was a grind it out, back you down fundamental rebounder. It’s virtually impossible to compare a power forward/center to a shooting guard/small forward. Both players had individual skill sets that allowed them to be great in their own respective spots on the floor. Kobe made and attempted some of the most spectacular shots you could ever see. Duncan, on the other hand, would make defensive plays that blew your mind, then follow that up with one of the greatest bank shots in the history of the game.
In their primes, there was no one that could be compared to either player. They were the greatest at their respective positions in their generations, but there is something that Kobe was far better at than Duncan, and even Duncan would agree.
The definition of legacy is as follows: anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor. If you wanted to make a statement that Kobe Bryant was better than Tim Duncan, you simply need to add that Kobe Bryant’s legacy was greater. Now, before Spurs fans go absolutely insane, let’s look into the reasons why.
Even before Yao Ming was a NBA star for the Houston rockets, with players like Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as huge stars, the NBA was already a well-known entity. When Yao Ming joined the NBA, the league gained more momentum. In 2004, Kobe Bryant started to travel to China each off-season to promote his shoes. Since then, he has become a legend among the Chinese basketball fans. Yao Ming was already famous, being a Chinese NBA player, but Kobe was the first American born player to be more popular than Yao. To the Chinese, his hard work ethic was what drew them to him the most.
Legacy at home
Kobe was also idolized by many of the young players in the NBA today. During his retirement run, many NBA players said that they regarded Kobe as their generation’s Michael Jordan. After Kyrie Irving made a game winning shot to beat the Golden State Warriors and win the NBA Finals, he told the media that he had channeled his inner Mamba.
Not many players have said the same about Tim Duncan. In no way is that an insult to Duncan and his skill or greatness. Duncan would be the first to tell you that he never wanted to be that player. He never wanted to create a legacy that was more than being one of the best power forwards of all time. Duncan was an incredible teammate that sacrificed more money than many of the greats did, simply because he wanted to win championships. The legacies both left behind after leaving the game are equally important, but it is unmistakable that Kobe’s far exceeds Duncan’s.
What they both meant to me
Kobe came into the league when I was 8 years old. At the time, I was too young to understand the significance of a guard out of high school changing the NBA. Duncan entering the league a year later, when Kobe mania started to take hold, was not much different. The rivalry that developed between the two became synonymous with the Western Conference. Though many players interchanged on the Lakers teams, the Kobe versus Duncan comparison, and rivalry, was always an intriguing one. Some of the best games I’ve ever watched were Lakers versus Spurs. As a Lakers fan, I hated the Spurs, and especially the ever consistent Tim Duncan. After pulling back the veil of my Lakers fandom, I had nothing but respect for Tim Duncan. He was a different player from Kobe Bryant.
Always present and outspoken, Kobe was always in the media spotlight. Tim Duncan was always quiet and kept to himself, never being too out spoken or emotional. Duncan personified the Spurs franchise: fundamental basketball, never anything terribly flashy. Kobe, on the other hand, personified the Lakers: Hollywood mentality, with a huge amount of talent and a splash of attitude. The retirement of both players ended individual eras. As an NBA fan and a basketball fan, I am grateful that I got to see both players in their primes as they dominated their respective positions. To both players, I say thank you for the years and thank you for all the incredible moments.
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