Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and San Antonio Spurs icon Tim Duncan were both named Hall of Famers. Since both played in the generation, an obvious question needs to be asked: Was Kobe Bryant better than Tim Duncan?
As both Bryant and Duncan won five championships apiece, there has been many debates going on lately about who had the better career between the two legends.
With all due respect to Duncan, Bryant had the better career, partially because Duncan had more stability with the Spurs around him. Tim played for the same coach his entire career in Gregg Popovich and had his core of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker always around him.
Kobe Bryant, after winning three titles in a row with Shaquille O’Neal, saw plenty of players go in and out of Los Angeles in the post-Shaq years. Bryant was forced to play with the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown. In his entire career with the Spurs, Duncan never played with anyone as bad as either Parker or Brown.
In 1,346 career games for the Lakers, Bryant cemented himself as the greatest Laker of all time. He averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, won five championships, two Finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP.
Kobe won the scoring title two times as well. Of course, no one is ever going to forget his 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors. The way Kobe was scoring the ball for the Lakers during his prime was Jordanesque. From 2000-13, Bryant averaged 27.8 points per game while leading the Lakers in the rugged Western Conference with no true No. 2 option until the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008.
Sure, Bryant was taking shot after shot for the Lakers after Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. But it was extremely difficult for him to score almost 30 points per game when the entire defense was game-planned to stop him. Kobe saw countless double-teams in his career and was still able to get a shot off and find a way to defeat opposing defenses.
Duncan did this, too. However, “The Big Fundamental” had better teammates than Bryant. When surrounded by superior talent, the game is easier. Bryant was trying to carry the Lakers for 82 games a season, while also trying to prove all the doubters wrong who were saying that he couldn’t win without Shaq.
Duncan never really faced any similar pressure while he was with the Spurs.
None of this is intended to bash Duncan, who is probably the best power forward in NBA history. In 1,392 games with the Spurs, Duncan averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks. He won five titles, three Finals MVPs and two regular-season MVPs.
But if Kobe’s and Duncan’s careers were switched, it’s possible Bryant would have led the Spurs to more than five titles just because of his scoring ability and will to lead teams to victories.
There have been so many great players who have had the privilege of playing for the Lakers. Bryant, though, was the best and most popular Hall of Famer to don the purple and gold. That says a lot when considering how many legends have played for the Lakers.