In response to a facebook page suggestion, I dove deep into the "Kobe Bryant vs. crunch time statistics" debate, and have emerged no different than when I started.
To sum up, Henry Abbott of ESPN.com wrote a pieceabout crunch time statistics, saying that Kobe Bryant wasn't nearly as good with the game on the line as many perceived him to be, and that not only was Michael Jordan much better, but that other NBA players like LeBron James were going to catch up to Kobe in a short amount of time.
His detractors may be as fierce as the are plentiful, but Kobe Bryant's supporters are their equal and Henry Abbott got a fair share of criticism for the article. Mark Heisler from the LA Times emailed Abbott about his article, saying that his analysis missed the mark, and thus began the classic "statistics vs. eye-test/gut-feeling" debate.
When the dust from the keyboards settled, both writers conceded that hyperbole and aggrandizing of players nowadays fueled this analysis, and Abbott conceded that he was merely tired of all of the Kobe love, wanting to semantically change his reputation from "other-worldly" down to "excellent".
This specific debate of "greatest clutch player of all-time" will never officially be decided until everyone can agree on a definition for the word "clutch". Abbott's analysis leaned toward that word only meaning "field goal percentage with a chance to win or tie the game on a last second shot". Obviously, Heisler felt that "clutch" encapsulated a bit more than that, pointing to assists or other plays that led to the final make.
In my opinion, a game of basketball can be won or lost at various points during the game, and there's no real way for statistical analysis to account for that. A run by a team in the 2nd quarter can put a team away for good, just like a string of makes by Kobe early in the 4th quarter can be looked at as the defining point in that particular game. Abbot continually uses "7/24" as Kobe's field goal percentage with the game on the line. What is clearly missing from these numbers, are any other plays in the last two minutes of a game that has pushed the lead to more than a 1-possession game, where a last second shot isn't even necessary.
NBA fans are constantly trying to find out which player is the next Michael Jordan, and who can and will make that last second shot to win the game. Everyone remembers MJ's last game and last shot, a make to win the NBA Finals over Utah. At this point it seems that no one will ever stand up to the memory of MJ, as now there is the fine-tuned statistical evidence to support him.
But for me, I tend to live in the moment. I don't know if Bill Russell is better than Wilt Chamberlain, I didn't see either of them play. And I'm OK with that. I caught the very tail end of MJ's career, and I was 11 when he won his last NBA Championship. Can I make great comparisons remembering what my 11 year old self saw of Jordan? Probably not. But can I decide the here and now? Of course.
Kobe may force the issue at times, shoot when others are open, shoot even when he's heavily guarded, he might even be beginning to age past this very discussion, and he might miss some game-winning shots,. But as I've said, it's not always about the last second shot. So over the past decade or so would I have rather had LeBron or someone else with the ball in their hands at the end of a game? Not a chance. Because you play the entire game as a player. The "clutchness" of Kobe Bryant can come at any time.
Enjoy some videos of some of Kobe's late game heroics:
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