Who is the basketball GOAT? Is it Michael Jordan or Lebron James? That’s the way the debate is framed these days. It’s a two horse race in most people’s minds. But to leave Kobe Bryant out of the conversation is a great injustice.
A few days ago I watched a YouTube in which Draymond Green said Lebron James is the GOAT. And while that is certainly a reasonable position the argument he made for it is not. Draymond said that Lebron was the best player in the NBA from 2005 until 2020. No he wasn’t: The best player in the NBA in 2005 was Kobe Bryant – and he remained the best player until he tore his Achilles on April 12, 2013.
Steve Nash won his second consecutive MVP in 2005-06 – and it was a travesty. That year Kobe averaged 35 points a game, scored 81 in a game against the Toronto Raptors, and led an undermanned Lakers team to the playoffs and a 3-1 lead against Nash’s far superior Phoenix Suns. Kobe hit an iconic game winner in Game 4 – just as spectacular as the one Jordan hit against Cleveland in 1989 – to put the Lakers up 3-1 in that series before succumbing in seven games.
In 2010 – before Lebron James had ever won an NBA Championship – Kobe led his Lakers to a seven game victory over a Boston Celtics team with three surefire first ballot Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – his 5th NBA championship. This championship – the high point of Kobe’s career – is comparable to when Lebron led Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit in 2016 against a Golden State Warriors team that was arguably one of the greatest ever – the high point of Lebron’s career.
If you talk to players who played against Jordan, Kobe and Lebron many of them are adamant that Kobe belongs in this conversation. Former NBA player Jim Jackson did the best job making this argument and all Kobe fans should be grateful to him for doing so. The fact of the matter is that the debate is not resolvable because none of them ever faced each other at their respective peaks. Kobe was just starting in the league when Jordan retired in 1998. Lebron was just reaching his apex when Kobe tore his Achilles. People will continue to have this argument forever. But what should be beyond debate is that Kobe is in the conversation.