OPINION: Giants of the Old West

Dante Centofanti

Dante Centofanti

In Western films, the timeless debate about who was the best lead actor of the genre has been over two legends: John Wayne versus Clint Eastwood, giants of the industry well into the ‘60s.

Nowadays, however, we talk about two different legends who rule a different kind of west: Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant of the NBA’s Western Conference.

Duncan entered the NBA in 1997 as the first overall pick, drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. After winning the Naismith Award at Wake Forest, Duncan entered the association with a special game. His ability to net rebounds in the post like Jay Z and Beyonce net money with a monster presence made NBA GMs go ham.

Kobe entered the league in 1996, as only the fourth player to be drafted out of high school at the time. After excelling at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Kobe was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick in the draft, but was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers later that night.

In terms of stats, Kobe beats Duncan in almost every offensive category. However, when you look at non-statistical accolades, they nearly mirror one another.

Kobe was a superstar playing in America’s second-largest media market, and excelling for the historically premier NBA franchise with the largest national fanbase. He was also balling with Shaquille O’Neal, another media magnet superstar.

Duncan, on the other hand, played in the 37th largest media market.

Kobe was the one with all the swag. He was the one with the major Nike contract and sneaker deal. He had relationships with Denzel Washington and Jack Nicholson. He was always the more appealing character in the eyes of the basketball world.

Duncan was never that guy. He didn’t have a sneaker deal, and he didn’t have public relationships with movie stars, but he did make sure nothing got in the way of winning basketball games.

Now, the notion here is not that Kobe is not a winner and that he didn’t give 100 percent to a franchise. But in terms of productivity and all around consistency for your franchise, mentally and physically, Duncan is simply better.

Duncan didn’t have an elaborate retirement tour at the end of his career. He simply said goodbye to a league that flat out didn’t appreciate him the way it should’ve.

The main thing with Duncan is he left a structure on the court and in the locker room.  You didn’t have to worry about if the other four guys on the floor were going to click with him psychologically, or if he was going to get everybody else on the floor acclimated. He worried about winning titles.

Even though at the twilight of his career Kobe was averaging 27 points-per-game, the same shenanigans with him were still happening — go ruining what could be another dynasty with the bad project that was him teaming up with Dwight Howard.

Foundation and fundamentalist: Those were two words Bruce Bowen, former teammate and three-time champion with Duncan, used to describe him. When Duncan took his bow, he left a Spurs squad that still contained his longtime cast members with the same omerta as him and mentored a bonafide two-way superstar in Kawhi Leonard.

When Kobe left basketball forever on April 13, 2016, he left a Lakers team that was in the middle of a rebuild with a long way to go to be contenders.

Duncan was and is a more efficient player for a franchise than Kobe. As great as Kobe was, he was the most selfish legend in NBA history. Duncan was a no-nonsense player, and from his humble beginning until after his curtain was closed on his career, his impact was far greater on his franchise.

This might not be a popular take, especially if you’re standing at any taco truck in the greater Los Angeles area, but in this world where you’re supposed to say what’s popular in terms of public opinion, a lot of times you should say what your eyes see instead.

I’m sure the great actor and director Mr. Eastwood would agree.

Dante Centofanti is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].