MJ and Kobe will always be linked and compared, whether they like it or not. And while Bryant continues to chase Jordan's six championship rings (he has five), I can't see number 24 lingering around for years once his skills diminish and his days with the Lakers are over.
For those of you who don't remember, Michael Jordan left the game of basketball three times in his brilliant, Hall of Fame career.
The first time was in 1993 to pursue a baseball career which ended before it ever really got started, the second was in 1999 after leading the Chicago Bulls to his sixth title and finally in 2003 after two mediocre years with the hapless Washington Wizards.
Jordan should have stayed away from the game after that second retirement.
But he ended up retired this time for just three years, deciding to sign with the Wizards as a free agent at the age of 38.
Like a lot of superstar athletes or faded movie stars, he had trouble adjusting to life out of the spotlight and felt he still had something left in the tank. Asked in September 2001 by People magazine why he wanted to return to the game, Jordan told reporter Stephen M. Silverman, "For the love of the game."
Jordan did in fact still have some of the skills that catapulted him from being the third pick in the 1984 draft out of North Carolina to becoming one of the greatest to ever play the game. He played two years for Washington, averaging a decent 22 and 20 points in 35 and 37 minutes per game respectively.
Yet there are some who argue that Jordan should have retired for good when he was on top, right after winning title number six with Phil Jackson's Bulls.
For Kobe Bryant, he has two years remaining on his Lakers contract and is motivated to do whatever he can to get his sixth ring. Barring injuries, Kobe will surpass MJ in total points for a regular season in that final year and could catch him for most career playoff points as well—currently he is 347 behind Jordan in that department.
Like Jordan, Bryant will probably want to play another couple of years after his current contract expires. Kobe will be 36 at the beginning of the 2014-15 season and if he has not picked up that sixth ring but feels fit enough, you can rest assured he'll keep playing.
The big difference is that if he does continue to play, Bryant will play for the same team. Kobe will retire one time and it will be with the team that traded Vlade Divac for his rights in the 1996 NBA draft.
There will be no three time retirements for the Mamba. He'll continue to fly back to Germany in the offseason for the same ground-breaking treatment to his ailing knee and ankle that allowed him to log 38.5 minutes per game last season en route to 27.9 points per game.
Bryant will never tell you that he compares his career to Jordan. That's left for the pundits and fans of the game to argue over, but the similarities and comparisons are obvious.
For this fan who also happens to be a pundit, I can say with conviction that Michael Jordan was the greatest all around player I've seen in my lifetime. Larry Bird, following a playoff game where Jordan dropped 63 points on the Boston Celtics, said the second year player was, "God disguised as Michael Jordan."
Where Bryant surpasses Michael is in his sheer, ultra focused, 24/7 desire to win at whatever cost. In that regard, there is no comparison—Bryant wins. He's in it until the tank reads empty.
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