Tuesday, July 12, 2016

So Ends The Kobe-Duncan Era

Kobe Bryant's Lakers and Tim Duncan's Spurs met 7 times
in the playoffs and represented the West in the Finals
13 times over a 16 year period.

The NBA is full of eras.  We had the early days of the NBA when George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers ran things.  In the 1960s, it was the Boston Celtics' amazing dominance.  In the 1980s, it was Bird and Magic.  In the 1990s, it was all Michael Jordan.

The post Jordan NBA was looking for its identity and it seems it just ended.  On Monday, Tim Duncan called it quits after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.  Duncan won five championships, three Finals MVPs and two regular season MVPs.  He may just be the best power forward that ever lived.

This comes as Kobe Bryant called it quits after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.  Kobe won five titles, also, as well as two Finals MVPs and a regular season MVP.  Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone scored more points than Kobe and only Wilt Chamberlain topped Kobe's magical 81-point game.

This was their era.  The Kobe-Duncan era.  That was the post-Jordan NBA.

From 1999 (when Jordan retired from the Bulls) until 2014, these two players and their teams dominated the NBA.  Sure, there have been other megastars through this era (LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, etc), but these two players wove a thread through the league.  They owned this league.  From 1999 to 2014, Duncan and Bryant combined for 10 of the 16 championships.  Either Duncan's Spurs or Kobe's Lakers represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals 13 of those 16 seasons (only the '06 Mavericks, '11 Mavericks and '12 Thunder broke through).  The two met in the playoffs 7 times during that stretch, including 5 times in a 6 year period.  Only because they were in the same conference did their rivalry not get the run of Bird-Magic or Russell-Wilt.

Sure, Kobe and Duncan were very different.  Kobe was viewed as a ball-hog; a me player who wasn't always the banner teammate.  Duncan is noted for his selflessness and his dedication to his teammates.  Kobe was a star in high profile Los Angeles while Tim was the quite giant in sleepy San Antonio.  Kobe has a highlight reel filled with dunks, amazing shots and epic moments.  Duncan has made nearly 1,000 bank shots and soft blocked shots.  Duncan was a 4-year college player who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft.  Kobe Bryant skipped college and entered the NBA as one of the first high school backcourt players (he wasn't drafted until the 13th pick).  Tim's Spurs won five titles over a 16 year span and none consecutively.  Kobe's Lakers had a three-peat at the beginning of the 2000s and then went back-to-back at the end of the decade.  Even in retirement they were different.  Kobe ended up with a league-wide tour and love fest.  Duncan didn't even have a press conference.

That's fine.  Magic and Bird were different.  So were Bill and Wilt.

But what makes them all the same is their drive to win.  They craved winning. Duncan was willing to be grossly underpaid just so the Spurs could add guys to help win.  He was known for his help defense and communicating the game to his teammates.  Kobe's obsession for winning is stuff of legend.  No moment was too big for him and my most vivid moment was him hitting two free throws to beat the Warriors mere moments after shredding his Achilles.  Two of the greatest players to ever play are now gone.

Just like they came along, others will define the next era.  Will it be the LeBron-Steph era?  Will someone else come along and dominate the league?  All I know is it will be someone.

Or a couple of guys.