Commentary

Ranking Kobe Bryant

Where does he rate among the greatest NBA players of all time? Tough question!

Updated: November 26, 2010, 2:50 PM ET
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

Vincent Flournoy, operations manager, UCLA: "Yes, in my book. He scored 81 in a game. Add on the rings; and with 10 seconds left, who gets the ball? LeBron, Wade or Kobe? Kobe all day for me. And 81 in a game is still ridiculous to me."

It began as a simple question. I thought if I did my own ghetto version of "The Social Network," that simple question would generate some discussion. Some discussion.

Honestly, I was only looking for Y's and N's. Yes or No.

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AP Photo/Jae C. HongOur writer found out it takes more than a simple yes or no to answer his question about Kobe Bryant.

Instead, I got back irreverence. Totally unguarded, passionate comments from people I trust the most when it comes to basketball knowledge. A testament that in the LeBron Age of Decision Points, Kobe Bryant is still one of the most (add adjective here) figures in all sports. The answers told me this: Whatever the right adjective is, it's still virtually impossible for people to separate how they feel about Kobe personally from how they feel about his game.

Here is the question. I sent out a text: "Is Kobe Top 10 ever?" Sent it to a few people. My b-ball brain trust.

I knew it was provocative, like asking if The Police are a top 10-ever band. I just didn't know how polarizing it would be. Turns out it was like asking if Michael Jackson is more significant than Elvis.

The initial responses were immediate. Then it went Fabergé. Two answers turned into four, four to eight, eight to 64. I (kinda) know how Mark Zuckerberg must have felt when he realized in the movie what he'd started that night in his dorm room after the girl from BC dumped him. Therein sleeps the beauty.

Initially, I was going to use their responses as a column, and not tell them. They're my friends, right? (Wink.) If they didn't want them published, they shouldn't have texted me back with their answers. They should have kept it simple instead of keeping it so real. But instead, I let them know this was coming. And amazingly, none of them changed their answers.

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AP Photo/David J. PhillipIn June 2009, Kobe Bryant had a firm grip on the championship trophy and the Finals MVP trophy. And that was before he led L.A. to last season's title.

P.J. Harris, marketing director: "Yes. I can put 7 or 8 in front of him but not 10. Dominates on both sides of the ball, heartless assassin, made people wanna fight cause he's killing them, directly responsible for at least half of his team's points by scoring, assists, decoy or other means regardless of who is on the team. And will take and make the last shot."

Rob Graham, scout: "No. Not now because he's still playing and might not win another ring and then I would say no. But another ring or two, then yes."

Another ring or two? So who are Rob's top nine? Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, Magic, Jordan, Jordan, Jordan and Jordan?

Michelle Beadle, host, ESPN's "SportsNation": "Yes! He has to be on that list. A clutch [expletive]."

The FCC, not to mention the Disney Corp., keep me from including the rest of Michelle's text. She's hilarious. And not the biggest LeBron fan.

Holly MacKenzie, journalist: "Whew. Think so. Just passed Kareem for franchise minutes played. Jerry West for points scored. 81 points. 5 rings. 2 finals MVPs. 1 MVP. If he's not, he's riiiiight on the cusp. And he ain't done yet."

So true. The fact that on the road you still hear "MVP" chants when he's at the foul line is a huge indication that Kobe is a long way (at least a year or two) from being over.

Moses Ball, artist: "I think u gotta have him up there. Other than Jordan, what scoring guard can you put over him? He has 5 chips … constant All-1st team and all defense, MVP, etc. Also look at longevity. 15 years and still no drop off in total production … actually getting more skilled while less athletic. If you look at any top 10, almost everyone on the list plunges statistically after 10 years. He still has a few quality years left. His only hitch to me is his Finals performances haven't been better than his regular seasons. Jordan, Magic, etc. got better in the Finals."

Now, Moses brings up an important point. As great as Kobe is, he hasn't seemed to raise his game come the Finals. Not to that all-God level that some of the other greats in the top 10 seemed to have done. But is it fair to hold that against him?

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AP Photo/Robert DurellKobe Bryant is head and shoulders (and chest and waist, too) over most of today's competition.

John Gay, architect: "He makes his teammates better. He's improved yearly, plays hurt, wins, recovers from scandals … If he gets 6 rings is he good enough to bump someone out of the top 10? … Whose bubble is he bursting?"

In my top 10, Jerry West's bubble just popped. As did Moses Malone's. Someone had the nerve -- I'm not going to mention names -- to ask me if Scottie Pippen was in my top 20. How am I supposed to think about that while I'm moving some of the greatest players ever out of my top 10 to get Kobe in?

Chris Webber, NBA analyst: "Woooooooooow. I wake up to this? Let me think. Do you have the other nine?"

I responded: Jordan. Jabbar. Magic. Oscar. Russell. Chamberlain. Bird. Baylor. Olajuwon.

It took C-Webb a week to get back to me. Three letters complete his response: "Yep."

Mark Spears, columnist, Yahoo.com: "Will be. Magic, Jordan, Bird, Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Kareem … (hold up) yes, he's in the Top 10."

Ben Osborne, editor, Slam: "We are working on a new special issue … Top 500 (!!!) of all time. After much discussion, Kobe came in at No. 10. So, to your question, Yes! Another ring and I have him at 8."

Bill Simmons, author/columnist, ESPN.com: "In my revised paperback, I moved him from 15 to 8. Still can't put him over Duncan. And MJ-Bird-Magic-Kareem-Wilt-Russell is a whole other level."

I knew it had credence when I got that answer within an hour after I sent the question. That's when I knew I'd sparked something.

And I straight forgot about Duncan. Might have to re-do my 10.

Some texts came in quick-hitting, to the point.

David Jacoby, producer, ESPN: "Yes."

Patrick Morton, computer developer: "Definitely."

Others were more emphatic.

Daryl Materre, engineer: "Oh yeah!"

Tony Gervino, blogger, "The Awl": "Hell yes he is!"

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AP Photo/Michael DwyerWe're just talking top 10 here. Unlike this Celtics fan, who is talking top 1.

Flynn Jefferson, rail operator: "Top 5 ever!"

Some even more egregious.

Raul Sims, high school basketball coach: "Hell yeah. NO QUESTION!"

Marc Brooks, restaurant owner/entrepreneur: "Is there any question?"

Others didn't see that level of greatness.

Gabe Bump, student, University Of Missouri: "Nope."

Sekou Smith, writer/reporter, NBA TV: "On the edge, top 15 right now."

Then knowledge took shape. Responses started coming with more convoluted thought. There were rationalizations and explanations. A more complete story began to emerge. More than just an answer to a question.

Rolle McField, business owner: "No question he is. Forget about how he broke the man code and all his indiscretions, the kid got game! I would definitely put him in that convo."

Timmy Hardaway, former NBA All-Star: "Wow. Great question! Based on what he has done, all of his championships, MVPs, All-Star games, points and how he can score points. And having 80-plus in a game. Yeah, I would have to say YES!"

Skip Bayless, master debater, ESPN: "Yes he is. Ahead of Bill Walton (limited by injuries), Dr. J, West, Elgin, Isiah, Maravich, Rick Barry, Cousy … Here: Michael, Magic, Russell, Shaq, Kareem, Bird, Duncan, Wilt, Olajuwon, Kobe. I'd take Kobe over Oscar, just on killer intangibles. Kobe has proven over time to have some MJ in him. So I must keep Kobe at 10 and slide poor Oscar to 11. Maybe it's subliminal because Oscar recently said LeBron is much better than Kobe. But that's my list and I'm sticking to it."

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AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillTo some, his five championship rings are still a little short of top-10 greatness.

Dr. Todd Boyd, professor, USC: "At this point, I would have to say that Kobe is not Top 10. He's won two titles as a leader of a team and three others as the No. 2 guy. One MVP award and two scoring titles. This is an impressive career no doubt, but there is nothing historical or transformative about his career. He could be Top 10 by the time he's done, but he's not there yet."

Jamon Bolton, retail operations manager, All Saints, NYC: "Yes. And his resume speaks volumes. Not the best ever but def top 10. I still say Magic is best Laker ever. ... It's sad but that man won't get his due until he's retired. That's why I've appreciated him more and more as the days go."

Kevin Smith, paramedic: "Nine or ten if you really want to see him there. But not for me, I'm Kobe-free."

Through this, perhaps a comprehensive story of a man's career can be found. The feelings of a variety of friends who follow the game give insight, perspective and a glimpse into how the end of Kobe Bryant's basketball story might unfold. Or simply, how it might end.

The only thing missing: a barber shop.

I blame Luol Deng for this. He was the one who originally asked me the question. I sent him a text once the texts stopped coming to me. (I stopped counting at 104.)

Here's what it said: "Jordan. Kareem. Magic. Oscar. Russell. Wilt. Bird. Elgin. Dream. Kobe. End."

That's my answer. Final answer to The Kobe Question.

Deng's response summarized the consensus. Four little words that speak for just about everyone: "I agree with that."

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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