And that is no exaggeration.
Despite a resume stacked with gaudy accomplishments—including five NBA championships, two Finals MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances, 14 All-NBA selections, 12 All-NBA defensive selections, two scoring championships and a league MVP award—some are still reluctant to regard Bryant as one of the top-10 NBA players ever.
Which is absolutely baffling.
There are a number of reasons why Bryant still hasn't won the affection of some analysts and fans. Some will point to his well-publicized rift with Shaquille O'Neal when both were members of the Lakers. Some believe that Kobe's uncanny ability to emulate Michael Jordan lacks originality.
Others will note his legal troubles back in 2003 and more recently the near divorce earlier in 2012, and a few will even hold Kobe's sometimes arrogant nature on and off the court as reasons they refuse to crown him as one of the greatest ever.
While these are all valid arguments (to an extent) the accomplishments and statistics Kobe has so far amassed over the course of his 16-year career state otherwise.
Let's examine a few key numbers, if only for the sake of discussion:
29,484—This is the total number of points Kobe has scored to date, which ranks him seventh all time, ahead of the aforementioned Shaquille O'Neal and other NBA legends such as Oscar Robertson (26,710), Charles Barkley (23,757) and Larry Bird (21,791).
Kobe only trails Michael Jordan by an attainable 2,808 points for third all time, which would put him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Any way you look at, that would be quite an impressive accomplishment.
5,141—Refuting the notion that Kobe is a selfish player, this number represents Kobe's career assists total, good for 41st on the all-time list.
Bryant has also averaged no fewer than 4.5 assists per game for 13 consecutive seasons. Not many players who have scored at the rate that Kobe has can make that claim. The fact that Kobe has often been the Lakers' best-scoring option is responsible for Kobe's reputation as a gunner, which is a tad misleading.
1,722—This figure represents Kobe's career number of steals, which ranks 18th in NBA history.
Generally when you think of Kobe Bryant you think of scoring, but this high number of steals along with Kobe's 12 All-Defensive Team selections are proof that Bryant has consistently been a complete player on both ends of the floor.
He may have lost a step over the years, but when the situation calls for it, Bryant can still be a top-notch defender.
81—This is Kobe's career-high in scoring for a single game, which he accomplished against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006. It ranks as the second-highest single-game total in NBA history behind Wilt's 100-point explosion.
What makes this feat even more amazing is that Kobe amassed the total on mostly jumpers while facing double- and triple-teams virtually the entire game.
It's also worth noting that Kobe could have eclipsed this total earlier that same season against Dallas; Kobe single-handedly outscored the Mavs 62-61 through three quarters before Phil Jackson decided to sit him for the entire fourth.
There are countless other statistics that can be rambled off to support Kobe's candidacy for top-five all time, but these few should suffice for the time being. It's true that Kobe's aggressive scoring nature may rub some analysts the wrong way. It's also true that—although few and far between—Kobe's off-court dramas have influenced some people's perception of his overall career.
When the dust settles and he is at the podium at Staples Center to announce his retirement in a few seasons, Kobe will and should be regarded as not only top-five player, but arguably the best individual player in NBA history not named Michael Jordan.
Numbers don't lie.
Love him or hate him, Kobe Bryant's greatness should be appreciated for however much longer we have to enjoy it, because there will never be another player like Kobe Bryant.