Under The Bleachers: Resume vs. Right Now

Above: NBA Champion Kobe Bryant

Let me start by saying that I fully understand what Stephen A. Smith tries to do on First Take every morning on ESPN. I’m not some rube that thinks he’s just shouting as Skip Bayless because he’s genuinely as pissed off as he seems about whatever generally unimportant topic the two day-time blowhards are bantering about.

“Minnesota is No. 15 in the Power Rankings?! That’s preposterous!”

Dude – they’re power rankings; they don’t mean anything. Chill.

So Thursday on First Take, Smith broke out the loudness and gesticulations and “I am appalled!” performance in response to ESPN voters ranking Kobe Bryant the 93rd best player in the NBA, sandwiched between Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza. Here’s the segment so you know what we’re dealing with:

I particularly enjoy the “remove my glasses and shout ‘What?’ twice” move when his partner-in-crime – surprise, surprise – takes the opposite position and agrees with Bryant’s ranking. It’s tremendous terrible television, as First Take is most of the time. But I don’t bring it up in order to go in on First Take because that’s some low-hanging fruit that I’ll leave for others.

For me, it’s the nature of Smith’s argument that caught my attention because it is one that takes place in bars and living rooms and gyms and arenas from coast-to-coast and back again across all sports.

Is Kobe Bryant one of the best basketball players of all-time? Absolutely – “Bean” has averaged 25 points per game for his career, won five titles, two Finals MVP trophies, one regular season MVP award and has been the one of the biggest stars in the game since his arrival. Is he still one of the top players in the NBA right now? Oh hell no and anyone that wants to argue otherwise is either hung up on his resume, doesn’t actually know that much about basketball or is just straight trolling, hard. Kobe is 37 now. He’s played a combined 41 games over the last two years and shot .378 from the floor. For all Smith’s bloviating about the eye test, Kobe hasn’t passed the eye test for the last couple years.

This loyalty to a player and filtering where they fit in the collection of the games’ best isn’t limited to the hardwood. Fans across all sports cling to their heroes and icons with rigidity, ready to fight you to the death if you dare besmirch the good name of the one guy they love more than everyone else.

But resume and right now are two totally different things and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that a once great player has hit the downside of their storied career.

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of skates, but even with a more impressive resume than Bryant’s, he wasn’t among the best players in the NHL during his final season in the league. The same goes for Michael Jordan when he was playing for the Washington Wizards. They were legends in the game with great resumes, but not the best in their respective sports during the twilight of their illustrious careers and acknowledging that isn’t sacrilegious; it’s actually the soundest stance a sports fan can take because it recognizes both historical excellence and the impact of age and the next generation of talent at the same time.

While Smith tries to deny that reality for the sake of entertainment, suggesting that Bryant should be amongst the top players in the game despite every statistical measurement there is suggesting otherwise, there are people out there that will actually try to make the same argument without the “Oh, this dude is just trolling right now” understand that comes with all over-the-top Stephen A. Smith rants.

Those people are crazy.

Kobe isn’t Kobe any more and he hasn’t been for a couple years, but that doesn’t mean he’s not one of the best to ever lace up a pair of sneakers; it just means he isn’t one of the best right now.

Tags: Hockey, NBA, NHL

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