This article is an extension of the article "If Kobe Doesn't Win This Title, He'll Forever Be Scottie Pippen." Special thanks to Andrew Ungvari and Michael T. Penn for the spirited discussion that has kept this topic alive.
If the conversation ever turns to underappreciated shooting guards, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler has to top the list.
Here's a guy who played the same position as Michael Jordan at the same time. Despite that fact, he's still recognized as one of the most versatile players ever at the position—and he's one of only three players in history to post 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, and 6,000 assists in his career (the others are Oscar Robertson and John Havlicek).
As we insist on deciding exactly where Kobe Bryant fits among the greatest players of all time, The Glide makes a compelling comparison.
It is understood, however, that the discussion changes dramatically if Kobe's Lakers take home the Larry O'Brien trophy this year. It's in that case that he steps out of the ample shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, wins his own championship, and becomes a legitimized team leader in his own right—cementing his place among history's elite.
* Both won championships with help. Bryant won his three with O'Neal from 2000-2002. Drexler won one with Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995.
* Both took their own teams to the Finals without actually sealing the deal—Drexler led his Portland Trailblazers there in 1990 and 1992, and Kobe's been there in 2008 and now 2009.
* Their career statistical averages are pretty comparable. Kobe has averaged 25.1 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists; Clyde weighs in at 20.4, 6.1, and 5.6. Clyde's a little more versatile, but Kobe has the scoring edge—though we can expect to see a decline as his career wraps up, and perhaps the stats will end up even closer than they are now.
* Both have an Olympic gold medal—Clyde with the Dream Team, Kobe with the Redeem Team.
It's only fair to throw in some differences, too:
* Kobe has the edge in individual recognition, with the caveat that Drexler had to compete against Jordan in every category. Bryant has, of course, an MVP trophy, as well as 11 All-NBA Team selections and 11 All-Star appearances.
Drexler finished second in the MVP voting to Jordan in 1992 and has 10 All-Star appearances—though only five All-NBA Team selections. Drexler was, however, selected among the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All Time, when Kobe had only just begun his NBA career.
* Clyde was well-rounded. Drexler nearly scored a quadruple-double twice, coming one rebound or one assist shy both times. He's third all-time in blocks for guards and is first all-time for guards in offensive rebounds.
* In contrast, Kobe is a scoring machine. The two scoring titles speak for themselves.
*Kobe will always have an edge by having more championship rings—and obviously the comparison breaks down entirely if he wins another this year.
The most intriguing part, however, is that the trajectories of both players' careers are the opposite of each other, each comprising periods of championships, irrelevance, and Finals appearances in some order. The similarities are almost frightening. Consider:
* Clyde's early career was spent building up the Blazers toward their two Finals appearances. Following those, they slipped into irrelevance, and Drexler asked to be traded. His request was honored, and he was traded to the Rockets—where he teamed up with his friend and big man Olajuwon, and together they won a title.
* Conversely, Kobe's championships with his big man came early in his career, followed by a period of Laker irrelevance. At the trough of that, he asked to be traded—this request was not honored by Lakers brass. They did eventually bring him help in the form of Pau Gasol, and the Lakers made a couple of Finals appearances.
The comparison between the Black Mamba and the Glide is fairly compelling, though Bryant still has a few years left to set himself apart. He holds the edge in championships, scoring, and sheer visibility—while Kobe has spent most of his career in the media spotlight, Drexler spent much of his under the shadow of Michael.
But you can't really hold that against him.