No player gave opposition head coaches more headaches than Kobe Bryant in his heyday. And no player was more closely guarded than him.
One of the aspects of the game that changed fundamentally between the early 90s and the mid-00s was the zone defense rule. The NBA had previously outlawed outright zone defenses, meaning players had to be good 1v1 defenders.
In attempts to make the game more flowy and attractive to fans, the league began outlawing clamping down on physical contact. This affected defenses disproportionately in the beginning.
To compensate for this, however, the league removed the blanket ban on zone defenses. This allowed teams to load up on star scorers a lot more effectively than in the past.
Zone defenses heavily used by many teams in order to take the ball out of a particular player’s hands. Kobe was possibly the prime example of how heavily the institution of zone defenses forced stars to adapt their game.
The Lakers’ shooting guard was often double-teamed even without the ball, making it tougher for him to get open. He would also be shown double and triple teams instantly on the catch. Head coaches would do anything in order to force the ball out of his hands.
In addition, he would also be walled off by help defenders from the paint in a way that would be termed illegal defense in the ’80s and ’90s, even though those were called rarely.
Kobe Bryant explained how he faced tougher defenses than Michael Jordan in the Bulls legend’s heyday
Because of these major differences in context, it is hard to compare Kobe and MJ in purely statistical fashion. These were aspects of basketball that, however, were never raised on sports talk shows and in post-game coverage.
However, when Kobe was asked the question by Sports Illustrated he obliged with a really candid answer:
“The rules are completely different now. I’ve always been able to shoot the ball, but the rules have changed since he played in terms of playing a zone defense.”
Mind boggling to think Kobe Bryant put up 35 a game against these zone defenses 🤯
This was the toughest era of scoring. You had doubles, shaded help, triple teams on some nights, elite rim protection and the pace was much slower and the game was rougher. Look what Bean did. pic.twitter.com/ocFtqpMqCi
— Ball Don’t Stop (@balldontstop) August 13, 2021
“You have to be a jump shooter now because there’s no way you can get to the basket — particularly myself because they just stack guys up.”
“I wish we had the rules they had back in the day where you could isolate guys and you could go to the basket anytime. But now you have to be able to shoot.”