This past month the NBA has seen the retirement announcements of 2 former super-stars and likely future hall of famers, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. Both were multiple time all-stars, and league scoring champions. Their retirement announcements got me thinking about the days (early-mid 2000’s) when both were in their primes. At that time, the NBA was dominated by them, Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant, amongst others. There was of course the debate as to who was best amongst them. Iverson, McGrady and Carter were all scoring machines, every night being happily called upon to carry the offensive load for their respective teams. Bryant of course has Shaquille O’Neal by his side, and wasn’t asked to do as much as his counter-parts, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
The discussion of who was the best between Bryant, Carter, McGrady and Iverson continued for a few seasons. It was highlighted by the 2001 NBA Finals between Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers (though of course at that time Shaq was the alpha, with Bryant being the side-kick) and Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers. Bryant and Iverson battled it out, with Iverson putting out a brilliant scoring effort, though ultimately futile. Kobe had Shaq, Kobe got ring #2. As the years went on, Bryant continued to establish his dominance, and display his greatness for the league to see. He proved countless times what a true competitor he really was in all aspects of the game. Iverson wore out his welcome in Philadelphia, and moved on to the Denver Nuggets, and then Detroit Pistions, Memphis Grizzles, and ultimately back with the 76ers where he would finish his career. McGrady and Carter both continued on with their careers with different teams; injuries and father time catching up with both of them. Each has bounced from team to team the last 10 years, their primes and days of dominance long since past. Carter is now finishing his career in Dallas. Neither were considered premiere players anymore after 2007, and Bryant was the only one with championships.
As the years went on, newer players entered the NBA with more dynamic skill sets, most notably Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Bryant was now considered the best player in the league, the clear leader of the Lakers, and continued winning championships, his ring count now at 5. The discussion quickly turned to who was the best amongst Anthony, Durant, Wade, and James when compared to Bryant. In fact, James and Bryant are still compared to each other today. The discussion Bryant was a part of in 2000 with players his age he was now a part of a decade later with different players much younger than him.
Iverson, McGrady and Carter have long past faded into NBA obscurity. Durant, Wade, James and Anthony are amongst the current crop. Bryant remains a dominant force, 14 years after the discussion first started with him in it. He is no longer considered the best (that title currently belongs to James), but he can still be put in the top 5 in the league, and at 35 years young, that is no small feat.