My blood boiled as we walked down the steep hill next to the East Asian Library. I heard the boys arguing, their voices rising in pitch and aggression as their paces gained speed. I disengaged myself from the conversation.
“Kobe deserves to be in the top 10. Hell, he deserves to be in the top three.” My friend — let’s call him Steve — has a fangirl-esque obsession with Kobe Bryant. Steve believes that Kobe shits pure gold and walks the hallways of heaven alongside Jesus himself. I, conversely, believe that Kobe’s poop is comparable to the average person and that the only hallways he walks where he can be considered close to the Messiah are those in the Lakers’ locker room.
Being from Chicago, I am slightly empathetic to this shortsighted view — after all, if you ask any Chicagoan (even those born after the new millennium), they will say that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever, bar none. But what I have on my side is the rest of the people in the world aside from the few die-hard Lakers fans such as my friend Steve. There is an overall consensus that MJ was the best, is the best, and will be the best there ever is.
But my empathy only goes so far. Of the thousands and thousands of players that have participated in professional basketball, Kobe was recently ranked 12th in ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 players of all time. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a fucking accomplishment. I think that being ranked as the all-time 12th best at anything is a feat, let alone in a sport that has boasted some of the best overall athletes of all time.
So needless to say, I couldn’t stand Steve’s blind fanaticism. To me, it was emblematic of everything that was wrong with our generation: our refusal to respect our elders and to admit that, hey, maybe we aren’t the best out there at every single thing.
We’ve grown up in an era of LeBron and Kobe, of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. These are our shining stars — our “greatest ever.” But we’ve been on this earth for maybe two decades, probably watching basketball for a little over one — a mere blip in the 70-year-long tradition of the NBA.
We never saw Jordan play his famous “flu game” or fly to the rim with his tongue hanging fiercely from the side of his mouth. We never saw Larry Bird average a double-double in his rookie season. We never saw Magic Johnson take over in the post and dominate some of the best big men ever. These aren’t players that can be written off merely because we haven’t been able to witness their greatness in person.
I’m not saying that Kobe isn’t one of the greatest of all time — because I truly believe that he is — I’m just saying that he isn’t one of the top 10 greatest of all time. I think that ESPN made the right call when it ranked him at 12.
When the top 10 was finally released, we saw names like Jordan, Kareem, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Wilt Chamberlain on the list. These men are gods. They have been immortalized. Their basketball prowess has stood the test of time and they deserve to be credited for it. When players’ abilities are still heralded three decades later, then they have made it to the promised land of the top 10, but until then, they must be content with their place as a secondary god in the immortal world of basketball.
And so, as the NBA all-time ranks come out, we as maniacal basketball fans have to understand that before there was Steph Curry there was Steve Nash. Before there was Kevin Durant there was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We must honor the greats of the past before we drool over the stars of the present. Because maybe if we do, we’ll realize that Kobe did deserve that 12th rank.
Sophie Goethals covers softball. Contact her at [email protected]