The Basketball Jones 40: What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a little hard to define. It’s certainly not a list of the 40 best players in the league right now — in fact, a couple players on the TBJ 40 would be ones that teams would gladly pay just to go away (and some have). And it’s not a list of our 40 favorite players, either — the combined man-hours that some of us have spent rooting against a couple of these guys would certainly disqualify that as well. It’s not even the 40 funniest or most interesting players, as a couple players are dull as dishwater off the court, but do enough on the hardwood to make their inclusion undeniable.
No, the best way we can define the Basketball Jones 40 is as the 40 players that are most important to our site right now. The players we write about the most, the players we follow the closest, the players that TBJ could least afford to be without. And what goes into that is an entire series of factors, ranging from their on-court success to their off-court headline making to their general likability as athletes, celebrities and human beings.
So hit the jump for No. 7 on our list …
If Kobe is no longer really in the discussion for Best Player Alive, he can certainly still make a pretty good case for Best Career Active. Among players still in the league, only Tim Duncan can rival Kobe’s total accomplishments, which include an MVP, 13 All-Star appearances, nearly 29,000 career points, and of course, five championships. Unlike Duncan’s relatively steady career on and off the court, however, Kobe’s NBA tenure has been one of extreme ups and downs, which have made him one of the most polarizing players in league history. One thing about him you certainly can’t say about Timmy, though, and one that might explain why he’s the one that’s in our top ten—Kobe Bean Bryant has never, ever been boring.
2010-11 Season: Not the easiest year for Kobe, who had to endure the typical barrage of “Is everything OK in Los Angeles?” speculations for the umpteenth straight season—except that this year, they might have actually been warranted. Kobe still managed a 25-5-5 in the regular season, and won his fourth All-Star Game MVP (this time in his own city), but the Lakers limped to the finish line in the regular season, had a scare put into them by the one-and-a-half-man Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, and then got swept by the Mavs in the second round. If the lockout kills the ’10-’11 season, Kobe is one of the players who stands to lose the most, as an already-aging Lakers team might be out of time to get Kobe his MJ-tying sixth ring by the time play resumes. (12/20)
Career/Legacy: Whether or not you think Kobe is overrated, his career resume has become officially unassailable. Dogged by claims that he “couldn’t win a championship on his own”—i.e. without Shaq—Kobe put that to rest by grabbing two rings as his team’s unquestioned go-to guy. Now, combined with his stat-piling, whether you think he’s one of the five best players of all-time or just one of the top 40, there’s no question that he’s a Hall-of-Famer, and one of the most important players of his generation. (10/10)
Drama/Controversy: With the possible exception of the Malice at the Palace, no basketball-related saga of the 2000′s caught more off-court headlines than Kobe’s sexual assault charge in Colorado, which would take him nearly a half-decade of good PR to even start to recover from. Not helping matters was that Kobe was also embroiled in perhaps the third-biggest hoops drama of the decade with a seemingly endless feud with one-time teammate Shaquille O’Neal, as well as coach Phil Jackson, and perhaps one-year Laker Karl Malone as well. If we were doing this list in 2004, Kobe would have scored a 15 in this category, but with his relatively good behavior of late, we’ll knock it down to just a 10. (10/10)
Go-To Move: Another face-up on the wing, with a repeated jab step, a space-clearing dribble and a pull-back fadeaway jumper. Maybe not the most purely exciting move in the league, but certainly one of the most comforting and recognizable. (8/10)
Highlight Play: There’s a countless number of clutch shots that Kobe’s hit over the years that could register—how many players could qualify for their own SportsCenter Top Ten Buzzer Beaters list?—but we’re just going to go with the 81-point game, in its entirety. I doubt I’ll ever go more than a year of my life without watching it. (9/10)
Comedic Potential: Kobe is far too serious and single-minded to ever be intentionally funny on a consistent basis. Still, he gets a lot of mileage out of his legendary array of Kobe Faces, and his oft-recurring “Why the fuck did you just ask me that question?” glares and pointedly curt responses at press conferences are always good for a chuckle. (6/10)
Nicknames: “Black Mamba” has come to be Kobe’s de facto nom de ball, originating from his seizing the role of Team USA defensive stopper at the ’08 Olympics. It does suit him fairly well, but it often seems like nobody outside of basketball writers and commercial voice-overists actually calls him that, and it loses points for being a self-appointed nickname, which is never cool. (7/10)
Definitive Quote: “I eat first. Everybody knows that. It’s not an issue.” (9/10)
Non-Hoops Ventures: Kobe’s taken part in dozens of commercials over the years, some good and some bad, and he had a very brief foray into rapping that hoops and rap heads alike agree was better left in the past. But for a guy who’s been the biggest star in the game for the better part of the 21st century, there’s never been any doubt that his focus has remained on the court, and we don’t see a Space Jam coming anytime soon. (3/5)
Poignant NBA Relationship: Gotta be with Derek Fisher, Kobe’s teammate of 12 years in Los Angeles, and the only player (person?) that Kobe’s ever seemed to fully trust. What Fish actually thinks about Kobe remains permanently unclear—from our best guess, it’s a mixture of respect, reverence, loyalty, fear and pity—but the two seem joined at the hip for however long both remain in the NBA. (3/5)
TOTAL SCORE: 77/100