This column is more about using words and phrases correctly than it is about basketball. (That's good, because I'm not the guy you'd ask to settle a bet about the NBA.)
It's also about achieving true greatness. For I can say without hesitation that Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, who announced recently that he'll be retiring at the end of the season, is literally one of the greatest players ever to play the game.
My source for this is an article in The New York Times that points out Bryant's dominance among the all-time leaders in many statistical categories across the board--both good and bad ones.
Note: Bryant isn't "the greatest." That's Muhammad Ali. But in the NBA: one of the greats in all senses of the word. As examples, Bryant is no. 3 all-time in terms of points scored, but he's also the no. 1 all-time leader in missed field goals.
"I would go 0 for 30 before I would go 0 for 9; 0 for 9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game," Bryant is quoted as saying in the article--controversially, if you're thinking of his teammates who might have preferred he passed them the ball rather than shooting and missing.
As the Times noted:
In a league that has rapidly become obsessed with efficiency, Bryant has never been scared of being inefficient, provided his team comes out with a win. And his accolades have added up in the same way his statistics have. He has made 17 All-Star teams and has been named all-N.B.A. first team 11 times and first team all-defense nine times. And most important to him, he has won five championships and has been named finals M.V.P. twice.
So while he played more games for the Lakers than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did, took "more shots than James Worthy and Shaquille O'Neal -- combined," and "is in the team's top five in career rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, free throws, 3-pointers, fouls and turnovers," he also holds some less noble records.
That's why I think we can say he's literally among the greatest--in both of the most common usages of the word: Pure volume.
His performance for better and for worse over his 20-year career has been "of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average," even while he's also considered "of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average."
"Explaining his career to future generations might be tricky, the Times reported, "but one thing will always be clear: There was a lot to Bryant, both on and off the court."