Honestly, I think it’s part ignorance and part denial.
First of all, since Wilt played in the 1960s and he’s no longer around to defend himself, and most of the people who watched him play are getting too old themselves, it’s very easy for the typical Gen Z / Millenial fan to point out that:
- Wilt played in an 8 team league
- Wilt’s numbers are inflated
- Wilt played against short white plumbers
- Bill Russell dominated him
- Shaq or whoever else would have owned that era
And all of these have a counterargument:
- An 8 team league would actually be more competitive, not less since more talent is concentrated in fewer teams
- Wilt’s numbers are not duplicated by anyone else of his era
- You can do some research and see that Wilt played against a guy 6′9 or taller at his position on every team, and that the average height back then was only 1″ shorter
- Bill Russell had a better team than Wilt did most of the time
- Time travel shenanigans don’t make any sense; today’s athletes benefit from the athletes that came before them. Barry Bonds would probably dominate in Babe Ruth’s era. Mike Tyson would have dominated in Muhammed Ali’s era. Wayne Gretzky would have dominated in Gordie Howe’s era. Any person with a college education today would have dominated Isaac Newton’s era. It doesn’t make any sense, and only for basketball do we discredit the older greats.
So I think it’s just ignorance for that part.
For the second part, I think it’s also denial. People see Wilt’s numbers and roll their eyes. They ignore it because Wilt’s numbers are too insane. They are video game numbers. How could someone have actually put up those numbers? That can’t be. That means that Wilt would be numbers-wise better than any other player in NBA history by a wide margin including Michael Jordan and Lebron James. The greatest of all time can’t be a guy that played 50 years ago. That’s impossible and not fun to think about. No, the greatest of all time has to be someone who played relatively recently so we can see all his footage and debate with other people who have seen him play. Wilt probably just got his numbers because everyone else sucked back then.
And thus, that’s why Wilt Chamberlain will always be IMO underrated because he was TOO dominant for his era to the point of it being too unbelievable. ESPN even left him out of their top 5 list. It’s really sad.
Can’t believe Kobe has died, brain is still processing this.
As many people may know I wasn’t a Kobe fan and I considered him the most overrated player of all time.
That said Kobe was still one of the greatest players in NBA history, a top 10 player all time, the second greatest SG all time without a doubt.
Kobe has the unique status amongst basketball players of being much bigger than their sport. I think Tim Duncan is probably the most contrasting example with Kobe. Quiet dude, had just a great a basketball career/resume, yet Kobe is probably 10x as famous as Duncan. Kobe was like Michael Jackson, or his idol Michael Jordan, or Tiger Woods. Someone so famous that they transcended what they did.
Kobe was famous for his legendary work ethic, his dedication to his craft, and his “mamba mentality”. He inspired millions around the world in a way that few other basketball players could. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an outpouring of grief for an athlete’s death in my lifetime. Shaq, Tmac and West all broke down crying on TV. Past legends like Kareem, Magic, Russell, Isiah, Dr J, Rick Barry all tweeted their condolences. Late night show hosts offered a tribute. Presidents Trump and Obama tweeted about it. Modern NBA greats like Lebron, CP3, Wade, Melo, KD, Curry, Iverson, Kawhi, Pierce, Kidd, Nash etc all had something to say about Kobe. It was unlike everything I had ever seen. Kobe touched almost everyone. That was his greatness.
Although I don’t rank Kobe as highly as others on my all time list, I cannot deny that Kobe was the second greatest ambassador for basketball in its history after his idol MJ, as he was probably the second most famous basketball player in the world.
RIP Kobe Bryant. You will be remembered as one of the all time greats, by anybody.