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Is Kobe Bryant Really the Best 1-on-1 Player of All-Time? Let’s Debate…

Posted by Nathan S. on 01/17/13 | Filed under Opinion, Sports
"No question. As far as one-on-one, I’m the best to ever do it."

Today in an interview with ESPN's Chris Palmer, Kobe Bryant said that he's absolutely the best one-on-one player of all-time. In other words, who wants to avoid doing work with a random basketball debate!!!

First and foremost, we need to establish some ground rules. For the purposes of this discussion, we're talking a one-on-one game on an indoor court. First to 11 wins, you have to win by 2, scorer gets the ball back (as opposed to alternating possessions), call your own fouls. Also, we'll be comparing players at their prime/during their best season (i.e. Kobe vs. Jordan isn't a 34-year-old Kobe vs. a 49-year-old Jordan). Got it?

Right off the bat, it's an underrated factor, but in truth the biggest factor that needs to be considered is size. For example, consider Shaq versus Kobe (or really anyone Kobe's size). If Shaq were to get the ball first, he could post up Kobe and dunk on him eleven straight times for the win. That's not a knock on Kobe, there's just no way he could give up almost a foot and 150 pounds and stop the most powerful center in NBA history. By the same logic, his only real chance against stopping someone like Hakeeem in the post would simply be hoping that Hakeem misses enough times to give him a chance. The same goes for Chamberlain/Kareem/Russell etc.

On the flipside, if Kobe got the ball first, Shaq wouldn't be able to defend him on the outside, he'd just have to hope Kobe didn't get hot from the outside. If he got on a roll, Kobe could conceivably hit eleven straight 18-footers and Shaq wouldn't ever touch the ball. That's where someone like Lebron might have an advantage; he's one of the only non-centers in NBA history (if not the only non-center) in NBA history strong enough to even possibly provide some resistance to Shaq.

By the same logic, while some of the game's best guards could put up a fight, it's hard to believe they could overcome the size advantage of more mobile forwards and centers. (Obviously great point guards like Nash/Stockton/Kidd/etc. aren't really factors here because the one-on-one game only values scoring.) If Kobe were to play an Iverson or Isiah Thomas, he'd most likely take advantage of his size and lean heavily on his post game.

It's almost impossible to predict how a match-up like Chamberlain vs. Kobe would play out, there are just too many different factors at play, but it needs to be considered. For simplicity's sake, and the sake of this debate though, let's assume that all things considered, the best one-on-one players would possess size, shooting, speed and mobility. In other words, it would ultimately come down to larger guards like Kobe or mobile forwards like Lebron.

Even then, we're still a long, long way from coming up with a favorite. Kobe said that there's no question he'd beat Lebron in a one-on-one, and while I don't know about "no question", I'd have to give the edge to Kobe if for no other reason that Kobe would literally kill himself trying to beat Lebron, while Lebron doesn't have that same homicidal edge. But Kobe verses someone like Magic Johnson? Even taking away his legendary passing game, Magic possessed one of the best all-around offensive games of all-time, and while he's famous for his smile, Magic was also obsessed with winning. Factor in Magic's size advantage and at the very least he'd give Kobe a hell of a fight.

I know everyone really just wants to talk about whether Kobe could beat Jordan, and we'll get there in a moment, but if we're seriously going to have this debate, I wanted to make sure we're really considering all the factors. I don't know if Kobe, or Jordan, could beat a center like Chamberlain in a one-on-one game. And we're still only talking about the tip if the iceberg. We have a tendency to focus on modern players, but by all accounts someone like Oscar Robertson had the offensive skills to really challenge Kobe, and he was also homicidaly competitive.

But as long as we agree that Kobe vs. Jordan in the finals of our hypothetical NBA All-Time One-on-One Tournament is far from a guarantee, let's go ahead and talk Kobe vs. Jordan. In a way it's the most boring part of this discussion since Kobe vs. Jordan has already been analyzed by every conceivable angle by every sportswriter alive.

It's also one of those debates that any basketball fan has already decided their stance on, and won't be convinced otherwise. Full disclosure, as a Celtics fan I'm on record as a Kobe hater, but I have to admit that a game between him and MJ would be a hell of a battle. My money would be on Jordan, and I'd be pretty confident he'd win, but I can't in good conscience say it'd be a lock.

Ultimately there are no "right" answers here, although there are some wrong answers. (Get the fuck out of here Guy Who Thinks Carmelo Could Beat Jordan.) But the fun is really in the discussion and debate. And since I know RefinedHype Nation would do just about anything rather than focus on their 9-to-5 job or school, let's have at it.

See Also: Is Mikkey Halsted Really the Best Baller in the Entertainment Industry?

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