The 2019-20 NBA season is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with no live games, the easiest thing to do is go back and discuss what’s happened in the past. Much of that conversation has been centered around Michael Jordan, as everyone has been tuned in to “The Last Dance.”
And any time Jordan is in the conversation, it’s only natural to start talking about the best players of all time. So, that’s exactly what we did. Early on Tuesday morning, we here at CBS Sports released our ranking of the top 15 players in NBA history, starting with Jordan at No. 1.
As expected, there were plenty of disagreements, even from some of those who helped put together the final list. Former NBA champion Rip Hamilton was one of the panelists, and he joined CBS Sports HQ to talk about the results shortly after they were released.
One of his main quarrels was that Kobe Bryant, who came in at No. 10, was far too low. In his mind, it was “disrespectful” to have Bryant that low on the list. Hamilton went out of his way to say that Kobe should be ranked much higher, as he had him tied with LeBron James for the No. 2 spot on his own list, and that Bryant’s the closest player we’ve ever seen to Michael Jordan.
According to Hamilton, Bryant was the only player he was ever scared to play against. Here are his full comments:
First of all, whoever voted and put Kobe [at 10] just flat out disrespected him. I feel like Kobe Bryant is the closest guy to Michael Jordan that we have ever seen. When you look at his stats and see, yes, he was an 18-time All-Star, he was a 15-time All-NBA player, tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but when Magic Johnson comes out and says Kobe Bryant is the best Laker of all time, that means better than him, and better than the guy Magic played with, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
I just think his body of work — you gotta understand, a lot of times when you look at his numbers, he’s still top-five all time in scoring, but he played with another great player in Shaquille O’Neal. If he didn’t play with Shaquille O’Neal, he probably would be No. 1 on the scoring list.
He’s probably the only guy — and Raja can probably attest to this — the only guy that I competed against in my 14-year NBA career that when I would come into the game I was low-key scared. The reason why is, Kobe was the type of player that was gonna try to kill you when the first minute of play started, all the way until the final buzzer went off.
You couldn’t let him get 10-12 points in the first quarter, because he was gonna try to give you 50. He scored 81 points in a game, he was probably one of the most complete players that we have ever seen in our game of basketball.
Personally, I would disagree with how high he ranked Bryant, and while it is true Bryant would have scored more points if he didn’t play with O’Neal, he likely also wouldn’t have five rings, which is a huge part of his legacy. But we’re not going to sit here and re-litigate every person’s list, that would take forever.
Mostly it’s just fascinating to hear Hamilton say he was “low-key scared” to play against Bryant. Hamilton wasn’t some scrub; he went to three All-Star games, won a ring and scored over 15,000 career points. To hear him say that is a pretty strong indicator of Bryant’s talent level, and also reminiscent of something Steve Nash said recently about Michael Jordan.
It’s also a reminder that while not having played in the NBA doesn’t preclude you from discussing it, there are certain details and knowledge that you can only pick up from having that experience. While many analysts are looking at legacy through accomplishments, accolades, statistics and skill, there are other components to the discussion — such as the impact players had on their teammates and opponents — and that’s why it’s valuable to get the thoughts of former players.