Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. The two superstars have nearly identical careers, boasting over a decade and a half of success in their respective cities with a multitude of hardware to show for it.
With 19 All-NBA first team selections, 27 All-Star game appearances, three MVPs, five Finals MVPs and nine NBA Championships between them, it’s easy to see why their success and longevity have been rivaled by almost no one.
Their legacies will surely culminate in their enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and consensus selection to the top Top 10 list of the greatest to ever lace ‘em up.
With so many similar accomplishments and comparable qualities, though, it seems odd that they have each chosen a different path to victory.
One has let his hunger for authority get in the way, while the other has been purely focused on winning. One has elected to lean on his own capabilities, seeking to win under his own terms. The other has proven his ability to win individually, but has also shown a willingness to accommodate change and relinquish control.
I think it’s clear which sentence represents which individual, but in case you’re still trying to figure it out: the former is Kobe, the latter is Duncan.
The 2011-12 season holds a wealth of knowledge on the matter.
In San Antonio, Tim Duncan bought into an up-tempo, fast-paced system that head coach Greg Popovich favored because it benefited and played to the strengths of team personnel.
By consenting to the switch, the Big Fundamental had to relinquish control and his standing as the primary offensive option. Duncan folded his hand instead of forcing it, trusting in and deferring to Tony Parker and Coach Pop.
Head out a little farther west, and we find a similar situation with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Bryant has been the sole leader of the squad post-Shaq, and has carried the Lakers to two championships in the past four years.1 Like Duncan though, Kobe’s increasing age and waning health suggested that there was need for a new game plan. And, with the hiring of Mike Brown this past offseason, the Lakers’ offensive focus seemed to be shifting to the Twin Towers in the post.
Bryant had other plans, though, and proceeded to jack up 23 shots a game en route to his worst per game field goal percentage since his sophomore season. He made a run at the scoring title, and the Lakers had another disappointing, second round exit.
Obviously the Spurs’ success didn’t far surpass that of the Lakers, but Duncan’s willingness to accept the transformation made all the difference. It will no doubt also have the added benefit of lengthening The Big Fundamental’s career and providing him with the opportunity to reach the pinnacle of basketball one more time (hopefully) next year.
Duncan found that it was worthwhile to humble himself and surrender his reign because it had the potential of resulting in another NBA title. Kobe’s arrogance and competitive nature kept him from doing the same, and, ultimately, having a shot at the title.
Whether or not Duncan’s decision will produce another title is yet to be seen, but I think it’s evident that Kobe won’t be seeing the Finals anytime soon unless he too elects to defer.
1 Shaq’s forced departure from Los Angeles is yet another example of Kobe Bryant’s need to win on his own terms. If Bryant had been able to coexist and cooperate with O’Neal, the tandem would’ve probably had a shot at two more titles. (Side Note: I feel like a lot of Kobe’s actions stem from his constant want and desire to be able to be compared to MJ when it’s all said and done. This desire supersedes all other things, even those that appear of significantly more importance to the rest of us (i.e. team chemistry and camaraderie).)