The difference in their legacy comes down to who they were as a person and what they wanted from the game of basketball. Because one wanted everyone to know him and the other just wanted to win as a team.
From the first time we saw Kobe in High School to the last shot he took he was brash, he was loud, he was ruthless, he was a product; marketing himself to be bought. Kobe was hell bent on being the best ever and hated anyone who go into his way. He would get his and do it his way.
Counter to that, Tim quietly arrived on the scene in college. He looked stoic, rarely smiling. He was known for his fundamentals and it was boring. When he led his college team to the Sweet 16, I wondered if he had ever smiled in his life. But that was Tim, appearing detached. We must've had him all wrong after his long time coach Greg Popovich said, "He is the most real person I have ever met."
Tim took a pay cut in his final years in a hope that he could get another title - Kobe was the highest paid player in the league at the end of his career.
It felt like everything he did was carefully planned and scripted. Just watch his final game and speech. His final season was literally all about him - a celebration of the greatest Laker. He had a farewell tour. People went to watch the one of the worst Lakers teams of all time just to see Kobe play one last time. Tim retired in the middle of the night in the offseason. Kobe retired because he knew he couldn't be the best or try to be the best. His body was breaking down on him. Tim retired because he wasn't having fun anymore.
Which Legacy do you take?
Player A: Five Championships. 2x Finals MVP. League MVP. 18x All-Star. Averaged 25/5/4. Reported Career Salary Earnings $328mm.
Player B: Five Championships. 3x Finals MVP. 2x League MVP. 15x All-Star. Averaged 19/10/3. Reported Career Salary Earnings $239mm.
The real question is, what would you rather have - more hardware or more money and fame?