Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> Kobe Bryant begins his 20th season with the Los Angeles Lakers just as Gregg Popovich enters his 20th season as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Both are shoo-in picks for the Hall of Fame, both have accomplished a ton, but who has made the bigger impact on their franchise? And on the league?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Popovich is my answer to both questions. Kobe Bryant ranks as one of the top 10 players in NBA history, yet there hasn’t been anything particularly original about him. Popovich, on the other hand, has shaped NBA tactics and NBA culture, while presiding over an era in San Antonio that wouldn’t have happened without him, even if Tim Duncan had landed there to team with David Robinson. The Spurs’ all-in embrace of international players, the beauty and effectiveness of their performance in the 2014 Finals, the harsh light Popovich shined on the schedule and need for rest all influenced the league. The Lakers, meanwhile, already had traditions of winning and of employing legendary players — why do you think it was so important for Bryant to leverage his way there when he was drafted?
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You forgot to mention that they both have five championships on their resume. Of course, as Pop would be the first to point out, it’s the players that play the game. However, in terms of lasting impact on the franchise, the Lakers had a long history of winning championships and as NBA royalty — George Mikan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson — long before Bryant arrived on the scene. But Pop and Tim Duncan brought championship basketball to San Antonio. Pop’s influence to the league extends from his pioneering penchant for digging up and utilizing international talent from every corner of the globe. His management of his roster — i.e. rationing minutes played and simply giving players nights off throughout — has spread throughout the NBA and even led to an overall effort from the commissioner’s office to cut down on back-to-back games in the schedule. No slight to Kobe, but Pop gets the nod here.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That’s nearly an impossible split. Maybe the answer comes down not to Kobe and Pop, but what to what happened before they arrived as perspective on what the following 20 years would mean. The Lakers had decades of pre-Bryant winning. He was a continuation. Popovich, though, had the largest role in defining the Spurs. He was the builder. In that regard, he has had the bigger impact on the franchise. And if there is the case as the No. 1 person in the history of an entire organization, then it follows that he had a bigger impact on the league as well. Plus, it’s just fun that it will bother him to be put on that pedestal.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kobe, and that’s no knock on Popovich. But Kobe is a player instead of a coach, is/was far more marketable (ticket sales, sneaker sales, TV ratings) and directly impacted games whereas Popovich put players in position to win. Too bad Kobe is so emotionally attached to the Lakers, because I’d love to see him sign as a free agent with the Spurs and play for Pop.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: While Bryant has influenced a lot of players who watched him growing up, Popovich has influenced players, coaches and even executives around the league who have spent time in San Antonio. That will be a longer lasting legacy and a more positive one. Players may want to be like Kobe, and there are a few in this league that have clearly been influenced by him. But his shot selection and me-first approach to offense doesn’t work without his rare combination of elite talent and relentless work ethic.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. They both will leave indelible marks on the game, for obviously different reasons. You can make the argument that Pop belongs in the conversation as the best coach in NBA history. And Kobe is going to make the list of the top 10 players in NBA history most every time. But when you talk about impacting a franchise, specifically, it’s hard to imagine one man doing more for a franchise than what Popovich has done for the Spurs (and, to a large extent, the rest of the league — considering his always-growing coaching family tree). San Antonio became a championship outfit on his watch (courtesy of Tim Duncan, of course). The Spurs’ championship legacy will live on with Pop playing the role of architect, which lasts for eternity. Kobe went to a franchise that had already gone through its golden, championship era. There was already an established standard (thanks to Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers and Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and others before them) in place. Kobe electrified the franchise, no doubt, and still stirs a rabid fan base, but it had been done before.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Bryant made the biggest impact on his franchise, and Popovich would be the first to say so: He would tell you that players win championships more so than coaches. The same goes for their impact on the league: Kobe has created more fans around the world, sold more tickets and made more plays than any coach. For all that Popovich has accomplished — winning five championships in a small market while creating the league’s model franchise, one whose values are mimicked repeatedly — his plans have succeeded because they’ve been embraced and implemented by Tim Duncan. If we were comparing him to rival coaches, then Popovich would be the clear winner of this discussion. But it isn’t right to say that he has meant more than Kobe, in the same way that no one would argue that Phil Jackson made a greater impact than Michael Jordan.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: While they are both cantankerous and fantastic, they are apples and oranges, with at least one tremendous similarity. I would say that Gregg Popovich has had more of an impact on his franchise, as he took over a team that had existed for 31 seasons without a title and racked up four rings in the next 18 seasons. Pop also provided a blueprint for how small market teams can compete and win titles in the modern era. You can argue that Kobe’s impact on the Lakers has been as massive, although the Lakers have had a murderer’s row of legends (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, George Mikan, Shaquille O’Neal, etc.) which makes Kobe’s road to the top of that Mt. Rushmore a much tougher road. That said, I’d argue that Kobe has had more of an impact on the League than Pop has, as Kobe has provided a blueprint for how swingmen in the NBA’s post-Jordan era can be successful.