Kobe Bryant died yesterday. Like many sportswriters, I cannot believe that sentence is real. There is so much to say on the subject and many angles to address. And I'll get around to that either in podcast or article form soon. Today though, I'd like to touch on something remarkable about Kobe Bryant and the end of an era.
Kobe Bryant was one of a handful of players that:
- Played their entire career with one franchise.
- Played over 18 seasons (their career is legally an adult!)
- Won an MVP
- Won a Finals MVP
Only Kobe Byrant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki have that honor. If we were to throw in "All-Star MVP" as a qualifier, then the list is winnowed to Kobe and Tim Duncan. These three players were titans of the modern game of basketball. It's bizarre to realize that for many of us basketball fans, most of our lives have had these players and their respective teams synonymous with basketball (and for us nerds, with winning basketball!)
In the Kobe-era of basketball (sorry Dirk and Tim, despite your greatness, it's fair to say mainstream media picked a face, and that face was Kobe), basketball's popularity and profitability exploded. And with that came changes to both the rules about player contracts and incentives for players to move. And, to be clear, we are fans of players making more money and having more choice where they play. That change, though, means the odds of ever seeing an "adult career" for a franchise player that never changes teams while also receiving the NBA's highest honors is slim to none. LeBron James, the new face of the NBA, passed Kobe Bryant in career scoring last Saturday. And that would have been an elegant and poignant sign to point to the end of an era. That would have been enough to let us know that the chapter in NBA history defined by Kobe, Tim, and Dirk was over. The world was not kind. As mentioned, I'll have more words on that in the future.
I'd like to remember Kobe's amazing career through an interesting lens. Here's how Kobe Bryant fared against Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, the only other player in his category. I'll include Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki's record as well.
Kobe vs. Tim Duncan
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan faced each other in 52 regular-season games. Tim Duncan holds the edge 31-21 against Kobe.
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan played six playoff series against each other. Kobe Bryant holds the edge 4-2 in series wins and 18-12 in games.
Kobe vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki played each other in 49 regular-season games. Kobe Bryant holds the edge at 32-17
Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki only played each other in one playoff series. Dirk Nowitzki holds the edge 1-0 in the series and 4-0 in games.
Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki played each other in 57 regular-season games. Tim Duncan holds the edge at 35-22.
Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki played each other in six playoff series. Tim Duncan holds the edge in 4-2 series wins and 18-15 in games.
The nerd in me enjoys that there is a bizarre rock, paper, scissors scenario in the playoffs. Dirk > Kobe. Kobe > Tim. Tim > Dirk. Also, it is criminal that Dirk and Kobe only had one short series late in both of their careers against each other! These players put up a fantastic era of basketball. It was sad enough to watch all of them retire. It's not right to have lost one of them for good. Thanks for all the games.