NBA / Aug 10, 2010 / 2:00 pm

Kobe Bryant & Brett Favre: A Tale of Two Gunslingers

Kobe Bryant (photo. Nike)

Last week, an argument broke out in the Smack comments section that was started by Dime reader Chicagorilla:

“The one thing I don’t get about the Kobe as #1 argument is this BULL$H!T about him being fundamental. WTF? Have any of you actually watched him play? He does everything in his power to try and NOT be fundamental. … Everything (Kobe does) goes against basketball law. The fadeaway is a really low percentage shot, but (he) manages to hit them. The floater in the lane is not fundamental. The jump in the air, twist and turn, hang, then throw a no-look crosscourt pass for an open three (while entertaining and effective at times) is in no way fundamental.”

As in every argument involving one of this era’s most polarizing public figures, Kobe’s loyal fans came to his defense to portray him as the textbook example of … well, being textbook, while Kobe’s love-to-hate-him critics supported the original suggestion that he’s closer to an out-of-control jacker. And as usual, the real answer lay somewhere in the middle.

Now here’s where the media’s power and ability to craft an athlete’s image and legacy reveals itself. Anybody who has watched “Inside the NBA,” NBA TV or “SportsCenter” for more than 15 minutes of Kobe coverage knows there’s a company line when it comes to #24: Relentless worker, fierce competitor, Mariano Rivera-like closer, possessor of more “heart” and “will to win” than perhaps anyone in sports. The same language has been attached to Kobe for so long and with such conviction that fans, media and even other NBA players parrot the company line as fact — even when there is no possible way to quantify statements like “Kobe has more heart than Dwight Howard.”

Another of our taken-for-granted Kobe facts is that he is one of the most fundamentally sound players in basketball; perhaps the most fundamentally sound guard of all-time. But is that truly the case?

Watching Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals, you can see where critics like Chicagorilla get their ammunition. On his way to a 6-for-24 performance, Kobe wasn’t just missing a lot of shots, he was taking terrible shots all night long.

There’s an easy explanation: This was arguably the biggest game of Kobe’s life, and with so much pressure on him to carry the Lakers against the Boston team that had squashed his title hopes two years earlier, he was pressing. It’s something that Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird and any other clutch performer you can name would be familiar with. But at the same time, Kobe almost took his team out of the game with his decision-making that was the antithesis of “fundamental.”

The truth is, however, that if Kobe Bryant is not fundamental, it’s only because Kobe Bryant is a gunslinger.

Undeniably, Kobe has the acumen, technique and ability to play a fundamentally near-perfect game of basketball. The first time I watched Kobe play in person, I was much more impressed with his knowledge and sense of angles on the court and how he could be a phenomenal passer when he wanted to be, than I was impressed with him simply getting buckets. Several of Kobe’s moves will be immortalized on film as “the right way” to do it. But it’s his gunslinger mentality — and the fact that so many of his gambles have paid off — that allows Kobe to slip out of the “fundamental” category, because for many of us, “fundamental” is too closely related to “conservative.”

Kobe will go for a home run when he should simply try to move the base-runner over. He’ll for for a 12th-round knockout when he simply has to win the round to win the fight. He’ll anticipate the starter’s gun, going for the world record when all he has to do is not false-start and he should end up on the medal stand.

In other words, Kobe is to basketball what Brett Favre is to football.

In many ways, the most successful man in the NBA is worlds different from the most famous man in the NFL. In a sport that takes itself way too seriously (“This is the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!”), Favre and his just-playing-ball-down-by-the-creek image brings a needed element of fun. And in a sport that is often not taken seriously enough (post-game hug-a-thons), Kobe brings a needed element of icy focus and cutthroat competitiveness. Kobe is the player we envision taking a basketball and a personal trainer with him on “vacation” in the Cayman Islands, while Favre is becoming notorious for strategically skipping the rigors of training camp just to show up when the real games start.

But between the lines, Kobe and Favre have more in common than their images suggest. They are noted iron men, with Favre’s unbreakable streak of consecutive starts despite a list of injuries as long as DMX‘s record, and Kobe’s knack for playing through mangled fingers and sore knees and aching shoulders.

Favre is football’s embodiment of a gunslinger, which is why he is the all-time leader in touchdowns and interceptions thrown. It’s why he has one Super Bowl win and three conference-championship losses. Fundamentally he can do everything a quarterback is supposed to do, but he also goes against the manual: throwing into double-coverage, or trying to squeeze a football through keyhole.

Kobe has won five NBA championships — and lost two NBA Finals series — in the same fashion. He is rewarded by his risks, but sometimes his risks spell his doom. Yet Kobe has learned that only by taking shots you’re not supposed to take and attempting moves that aren’t supposed to work do you become feared for hitting impossible shots and unleashing unprecedented moves.

On the flip side of Kobe/Favre, you have athletes like Tim Duncan and Peyton Manning. Duncan has a lot in common with Kobe — the competitiveness, the work ethic, the record of success — except he is the definition of fundamental. Manning, similarly, is just as productive and successful as Favre despite their constrasting images. Duncan plays basketball “the right way” and makes the right decisions almost every time, just like Manning is a walking QB instructional tape. And you can’t argue with their methods: Duncan has four NBA championships and Manning has one Super Bowl win under his belt. They are two of the greatest players of all-time, just like Kobe and Favre.

But Duncan and Manning are not gunslingers.

There’s a reason Kobe Bryant’s jersey consistently ranks No. 1 in sales at the NBA Store; why Nike puts so much of their muscle behind him; why he is known to even the most casual sports fan. It’s the same reason Favre dominates ESPN on a daily basis and, although Manning has broken into mainstream recognition by his willingness to be a visible pitchman, Favre is the name that generates higher TV ratings. The gunslinger style is more exciting than the fundamental approach. It makes for more compelling drama and longer-lasting memories.

And it’s not anymore “right” than the classic fundamental approach. It’s all about whether you go for that home run or go for that clutch single. Wins are wins and championships are championships, and between Kobe/Favre and Duncan/Manning, they have their share by doing it their way.

But one grouping will go down in history as unforgettable legends, while the other will reside in the, “Oh yeah, he was incredible, too” category. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

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  • DizzyDutch

    brett favre is a choker, his career has been defined by the interceptions that he has thrown during key drives. It is fitting that his career will end with the interception he threw when the vikings played the saints last year.

    kobe-5 rings favre- 1 chip

  • Joe’s Momma

    Chicagorilla gets a shout out! Much deserved

  • Joe’s Momma

    Kobe is fundamentally sound, but he is so gifted he doesn’t need to do everything fundamentally every time.

    That is like telling a Lambo to go the speed limit. Sure it will get you were you need to go at a decent time, but that is not why you bought the Lambo. You bought it to mash the gas and turn heads, thats what Kobe does.

  • Big Island

    It’s impossible to compare guys across sports. Everyone says Favre threw the interception last year, but nobody brings up Adrian Peterson’s fumble which was worse. I love Favre. He will win games for you making throws that are risky, but he will lose some doing the same things. Peyton Manning wins by not taking those risks and minimizing his mistakes.

    Kobe has great fundamentals. His footwork is insane. I hate him. He uses his fundamentals to take some terrible shots, but in fairness to him, majority of those shots are when the clock is winding down and everyone else just gives it to him. He has great basketball fundamentals but doesn’t play fundamental basketball.

  • http://www.TheProductBand.com Kermit The Washington

    This article is to dang lonnng!! LOL

    But yeah, the fundamentals that Kobe has perfected; this is what enables him to hit those twisting, fading, falling jumpshots. If you ever watch the slo-mo replays (and this was even BETTER with Mike), you’ll see that at the point of his release everything is perfectly in line. In other words, he may start the move by flailing and twisting and falling, but by the time he releases the ball he’s snapped back to perfect form, just in time to get off a good shot.

  • Pareja

    @Joe’s mama

    Shaq would probably say: “But what if Lambo runs into the wall?”
    lol

  • Joe’s Momma

    @Pareja says

    hahaha,

    aaah, touche my friend, touche

  • control

    Like I said in that discussion referenced above, Kobe has very solid skills and good fundamentals, but he isn’t a fundamental player. Some of Kobe’s “heroics” wouldn’t even be necessary if he were playing a less risky and more fundamental game to begin with. I’ve seen games where it’s been very close, there is 5-6 minutes left and he’s looking to drop a dagger…so he does these crazy 3pt shots, or looks off his entire team so he can throw up a triple coverage fadeaway. Usually that shit doesn’t go in, so his team enters the clutch situation slightly down, where they would be slightly up instead. Then he does some crazy completely non-fundamental shit and it just happens to work out…but it didn’t even need to be that way to begin with.

    His “gunslinging” is completely unnecessary in most cases. It would be amazing to see how good of a player Kobe could be if he could control himself when it comes to that shit, limit it and work towards more conventional and higher percentage shots instead of always trying to be a hero (or make it look like it). Personally, if I were in the NBA, I’d rather not ever be mentioned as “being clutch” because that means my team was (or always is) in a position to lose anyways. I’d rather rape teams by 20 every game and make it clear that they had no chance. Kobe changes his shot selection to be a more fundamental and conventional approach, and his scoring average would go up 4-8ppg, and his shooting percentage 8-12%.

  • Sporty-j

    Man this article was so long that i stopped reading it to see how much more was left. You really love your job and today must have been a really boring day…

  • Celts Fan

    This is the one sports site I go to where I know I’m free from all the talk of Brett Favre. Please keep it that way moving forward. SMH

  • Chise

    Great article.

  • M Intellect

    I like the Lambo analogy but I agree with Control, he does some real unneccessary shit. Forcing a shot is cool when you HAVE to force a shot but Kobe sometimes does some fucking JR Smith dumb shit REGULARLY and before you start, dude is my favourite player.

  • sh!tfaced

    LMAO. Nice follow up on the never ending argument about Kobe.
    “Ask 10 people about Kobe and 9 out of 10 reactions would be based on love and hate.”
    …reason why some really try to stay from the Kobe Bryant paradox.
    One thing I’ll say about Kobe though, he might be the most polarizing NBA superstar, ever. (Just like Favre.)

  • sh!tfaced

    And oh, just curious who might be LeBron’s quarterback counterpart? Can’t be Drew Brees since he already won a ring. Philip Rivers, maybe? Big-time playoff choker…

  • Big Island

    @sh!tfaced LeBron’s QB counterpart is Jeff George. Has all of the tools, nobody likes him, big numbers, and hopefully won’t ever win sh!t. FYI, I have a Jeff George jersey and it’s CASH.

  • Joe’s Momma

    Yea, I guess you can put Kobe and Favre together because they are both risk takers and don’t really do things the right way all the time.

    But I do still think overall, he is a very fundamentally solid player, but he doesn’t utilize it all the time.

    He freelances defensively a lot. Offensively people pointed out stuff already.

    I don’t mean to sound like a Kobe homer because I don’t think I am. But dude is legit.

  • sh!tfaced

    @ Big Island Hahaha. Touchdown! That was spot on, man.

  • Ekstor

    Second kudos to Big Island. First, the fundamentals are in reference to Kobe’s footwork. His footwork allows him to get into positions where he can launch a shot that most others couldn’t. It also explains his ability to hit shots from any place on the floor and even in the post with his back to the basket. It’s those same fundamentals that impressed Hakeem in how quickly Kobe learned moves that Hakeem showed him last summer. It’s also those same fundamentals that allow Kobe to get into position to corral 15 rebounds (and that’s no fluke, Kobe could average double figure rebounds if he focused on doing so… at the expense of other areas of his game). Second, what a lot of you are missing as well is that some of those difficult shots are shots that he practices regularly. Third, if you watch enough, you’ll know that Kobe is one of THE best mid-range shooters in the game (perhaps only Carmelo is better). THAT is also a result of superb footwork and the shooting mechanics.

    Does he force a lot of shots? Yes. But to me, that’s more judgment issues than it is fundamentals. He’s not always a controlled player, but that’s a different issue. Just remember that most players couldn’t even get off shots from where Kobe launches. It’s his great footwork and balance that get him that opportunity.

  • Conoro

    You would write this piece, Burton.

  • Kobeeeee

    Ok. Kobe has perfect fundamentals that is why he can play and execute “non-fundamentally”. If he wasn’t the ball would not go through the rim and net. It’s that easy.

  • Qwame

    LOL, As usual, AB writes something to Denigrate Kobe.

  • Ian

    well favre is my fav football player ever and kobe is in my top 5 most hated.

    dizzy
    gtfoh favre was the reason the vikings almost made the superbowl his teammates cost him the game.

  • thomas

    omg u dumb asses
    kobe got great foot works (one of the best player that NBA has ever seen footwork wise)

    kobe got great post moves (easy fundamentals)

    kobe got great pump fakes, jabs, and dream shake (all fundmental moves)

    kobe has great shot (he has more than 5 ways to shoot) he practiced in many diff ways so he can shoot even if his fingers, wrists, or etc are messed
    that is called a lot of practice, that is being fundmental

    kobe can dribble very well (again fundmental)

    kobe can use his left hand (fundmental)

    and there are so much more but arent all these that ur basketball coach tells u to do since elementary school
    work on ur shot, dribble, jabs, pump fakes, left hand, foot works, etc

    OMG u guys are retard and know nothing about basketball

    yeah just go ahead and say he is fade aways so he is not fundmental
    STFU

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=789808568 frankiewilde

    @kermit washington –spot on.

    …but something came to mind about kobe’s post up game. as great as his footwork is, he seems to expend waaay more energy than how mj used to do it…

  • wayne

    lets see fundamental
    free throws check
    dribbles both hands check check
    elevates high release, check
    follow thru thru check
    post moves, check
    two steps (only) to left and right check check
    lay-up away from defender check
    back on defense check
    body up, hands and foot work on defense, check check check
    talking to team mates during plays both sides of ball,check
    elbow on release check
    helps coach check
    knows opponents moves check
    his worst jack move is better than most NBA starters jumper, rember most of the great shooters are coming of the bench

  • bobba

    Interesting article. (Funny that people complain it’s “too long” – sign of the times – sigh.)

    Kobe -IS- amazingly sound in fundamentals. The critics here are complaining about the quality of his DECISIONMAKING, that is, his grasp of the fundamentals of team basketball and the fundamental soundness of his decionmaking with respect to team ball. Good points, but a different issue.

    The issue here is that, even if he chooses to unnecessarily take a very low percentage shot (for example), he can take that shot in a manner (e.g., footwork, shooting form, position, etc.) that reflects fundamentally sound basketball skills, even in that highly difficult and unorthodox situation.

  • MM

    @frankiewilde

    Jordan had bigger hands to grip the ball and a bigger body to gain and hold position with. Made it a lot easier for him to shoot over whoever was guarding him since they usually weren’t as big or as strong. Thats at least with execution of post fadeaways or fakes. Post spins and fluidity of movements they are about on par with each other.

  • http://www.misolutionz.com Pates@misolutionz.com

    Great article!

  • stucktrader

    Kobe HAS the fundamental chops down…

    if we are talking as a scorer. He can shoot anything, maybe except the skyhook. BUT hey, he bothered to learn Hakeem’s dream shake… and as he gets older, he will need another weapon.

    What Kobe sometimes lacks is the ability to ‘trust’ the open man. Granted, if he is shooting lights out, i would chose Kobe over an open man that chokes (Sasha) on the 3. (Which is why i think that Blake/Barnes signing was significant).

    Fundamentals as defined by his knowledge/attention to detail… YES…

    Fundamentals regarding the open guy… maybe not… but it seems he has vastly improved it this past year. No question, he gets his assists with the Bynum or Gasol.

    Where he truly has improved involves his getting a pass off that leads to the ‘other’ guy getting the assist. For example, Watch him from the post, pass to a wing, who in turn passes to a cutter or open 3… He does this again when he is isolated… when he drives then he usually gets doubled leaving a wing open…

    I think this was too wordy… but the point is, HE has become a fundamentally sound player as a scorer. But now that he trusts his team mates, Now he is PLAYING fundamental Team ball (MOST times)…