Michael Jordan: Why He Is Wrong About the Kobe vs. LeBron Debate
"Five beats one every time I look at it," Jordan said. "And not that (James) won't get five. He may get more than that, but five is bigger than one."
While Jordan is the greatest player of all time, he is dead wrong when it comes to this argument.
To start, LeBron James is a better individual player than Kobe Bryant. For his career, LeBron is averaging more points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, blocks per game and steals per game.
Now, Kobe Bryant fans like to point out that Kobe's first two seasons in the league were outliers and push down his overall numbers. If you are to completely disregard the first two seasons of Bryant's career, then LeBron STILL trumps Bryant in every statistical category. Except for free-throw percentage of course; Kobe's got that free-throw percentage.
As well, the argument that Kobe has five rings to LeBron's one is intrinsically flawed. Kobe Bryant has been in the league for 17 seasons. He began his career on the Los Angeles Lakers—one of the two most storied franchises in the history of the NBA.
LeBron, on the other hand, is only in his 10th NBA season. He began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are not exactly renowned as the most competent franchise in the NBA. While LeBron was in Cleveland, the second-best player he played with was Mo Williams.
Who's better, Kobe or LeBron?
LeBron and Kobe also both faced great periods of change during their career. LeBron James in the summer of 2010 left the Cleveland Cavaliers and signed with the Miami Heat, leaving behind a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was virtually the same team, only without him.
Similarly, in the summer of 2004, the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat. The team was relatively different, losing Gary Payton and Karl Malone, but replacing them with Caron Butler and Lamar Odom, which I would argue is a lateral move. There's an argument that the team got worse outside of the Shaq trade, but I would argue that it was more than comparable.
In 2010 with LeBron, the Cavaliers led the league with 61 wins. The next season after losing LeBron, they fell to 21 wins—second worst in the NBA. In 2004 with Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers won 56 games and were in the NBA Finals. The next season after losing Shaq, the Lakers fell to 34 wins. The Lakers weren't competitive again until they traded for Pau Gasol in 2008.
All this being said, it is more than understandable why Jordan would pick Kobe over LeBron. Michael Jordan's career is personified by exactly one thing: winning. He is characterized as a guy who, after winning his first title, won five in the next seven years. He is most likely to pick the player who represents his career most, and that's Kobe. However, LeBron James is the superior player and will have the superior career when it's all said and done.
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