Who is the better player: Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant?
With all the reasoning by analysts and diehard fans, this heated debate will never have a legitimate answer until Kobe Bryant retires.
Anyone can compare the numbers, records, or awards that both players have achieved, but very few people factor the differences between the Jordan era and the Kobe era.
Let’s take a look at several key factors that are omitted in this Jordan vs. Kobe debate.
I'm surprised that players in the '80s and '90s receive little credit for their defensive skills compared to players after Jordan retired. Since Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, the league has produced many stellar first and second All-Defensive players featuring:
Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Cooper, Maurice Cheeks, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Joe Dumars, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Alvin Robertson, John Starks, Gary Payton, Dikembe Mutombo, Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and many others.
Since Jordan’s retirement in 1998, the Kobe’s generation has produced first and second All-Defensive players featuring:
Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Kidd, Ben Wallace, Ron Artest, Bruce Bowen, Scottie Pippen, Doug Christie, Andrei Kirlenko, Dwyane Wade, Marcus Camby, Larry Hughes, Tayshaun Prince, Gary Payton, Eric Snow, Theo Ratliff, PJ Brown, and several others.
Based on this list alone, my conclusion is that defensive players Jordan’s era are more intimidating than players in Kobe’s era.
Not only do players in Jordan’s era play great defense, but almost all players are exceptional scorers, while many players in Kobe’s era are defensive specialists and lack offensive skills.
There were also many excellent interior defenders in Jordan’s era who altered shots and clogged driving lanes. Kobe’s era has players who are also exceptional interior defenders, but contain very few Hall of Fame caliber players.
Many people argue that there were no great wing defenders that could defend Jordan, but it is virtually the same argument for Kobe. And defense is not an individual effort—it’s a team effort and Jordan played against many of the best defenders.
I have read that wing players in Kobe’s generation are more talented and more athletic than Jordan's era, such as Lebron James, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, or Vince Carter. But only Wade made any of the All-Defensive teams, and Lebron is the only other player to display exceptional defensive skills.
The defensive players in Jordan’s era were not pushovers; they were as good, if not better, than the defensive players in Kobe’s era.
NBA Rule Changes
Before Michael Jordan retired in 1998, the game was much more physical and allowed much more contact. This meant Jordan had to work harder offensively to get his points.
Let’s take a look at some of the major rule changes after Jordan retired:
- In the backcourt, there is no contact with hands and forearms by defenders. In the frontcourt, there is no contact with hands and forearms by defenders except below the free throw line extended in which case the defender may only use his forearm. In the post, neither the offensive player nor the defender is allowed to dislodge or displace a player who has legally obtained a position. Defender may not use his forearm, shoulder, hip or hand to reroute or hold-up an offensive player going from point A to point B or one who is attempting to come around a legal screen set by another offensive player. Slowing or impeding the progress of the screener by grabbing, clutching, holding “chucking” or “wrapping up” is prohibited.
- No contact with either hands or forearms by defenders except in the frontcourt below the free throw line extended in which case the defender may use his forearm only.
- Neither the offensive player nor the defender will be allowed to dislodge or displace a player who has legally obtained a position.
- Defender may not use his forearm, shoulder, hip or hand to reroute or hold-up an offensive player going from point A to Point B or one who is attempting to come around a legal screen set by another offensive player.
- Slowing or impeding the progress of the screener by grabbing, clutching, holding “chucking” or “wrapping up” is prohibited.
What is most impressive is that before these rule changes, Jordan still won 11 consecutive scoring titles, boasting an average 31.5 ppg and shooting an astonishing 50.5 percent during that span. Kobe, who plays in an era in which the rules favor the offensive player, has career averages of 24.9 ppg on 45.4 percent shooting, although I will admit that the numbers are little deceptive because of Kobe's earlier seasons and three-point shooting.
I’m not saying that Kobe would not have done well in Jordan’s era, but it’s impossible to discredit what Jordan was able to do during his career.
Like I said before, there is no legitimate answer until Kobe Bryant retires from the NBA, which may be another decade from now. Kobe could easily end up with more championships and points than Jordan.
If Bryant retired today, however, then Jordan is clearly the better player.
Don’t mistake my statement for saying Jordan is more talented than Kobe, because it is entirely different than saying Jordan is better than Kobe.
I believe Kobe Bryant is a more talented offensive player than Michael Jordan. Looking at both players’ game film, Kobe is a better ball handler and plays much more comfortably on the perimeter than Jordan.
Kobe also has better shooting range and a wider variety of moves compared to Jordan, who prefers to use mid-range game and post game.
But Michael Jordan has undoubtedly been the better leader, and therefore the better player. Throughout his career, Jordan has always been patient and mature, and was eventually rewarded with six NBA titles in eight years.
“There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren't willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”