Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan: The Debate Ends Right Here

Samuel Bell JrSenior Analyst IJune 15, 2009

So I'm surfing the best citizen sports journalism site in the country, Bleacher Report, when I come across a headline that had the name "Kobe Bryant" and "overrated" in the same sentence.

What a travesty.

To add to my furor and frustrations, Bryant is being compared to Michael Jordan yet again as a plausible argument for his supposedly exaggerated talents and accomplishments.


Aren't we tired of this yet? How many times does one have to listen to these empty, pointless comparisons between His Airness and the Mamba?

I'd rather listen to the CEO's of Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice argue about who sells to the most females.

How about Geico and Progressive argue about who has the better ad campaign, the girl who acts like the lost sister of Sarah Chalke or the hairy, dirty faced-looking cavemen.

Does any of that matter to you?

I doubt it, and whether Kobe can win titles with or without Shaq, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Kevin Youkilis for that matter doesn't really matter either.

I read a comment by Matt that said something so profound, but really just common sense. He said, "why can't Shaq and Kobe both just be great?" As simple as that sounds, he is hitting the receiver square in the numbers with that pass.

Really, why can't Shaq, Kobe and Jordan just all be great players that brought their own unique extraordinary talents to the game of basketball?

Why are some of us as a culture fascinated with comparing people to diminish one of the two compared's accomplishments and abilities?

Isn't it amazing enough for Kobe that he is even in the same basketball stratosphere as Jordan, or will the naysayers feast on that too and say that he isn't? Can Kobe ever climb Mt. Jordan?

I'm not sure if Bryant aspires to, but as he celebrates his fourth title and first Finals MVP award, I'm sure the last thing he's worried about is whether he can quiet down haters who look to simplify his every accomplishment.

One thing that anyone with eyes and a slight brain can identify with is that Bryant is supremely talented. It seems that every time Kobe triumphs, the references to Jordan rise from the ashes to say, "OK, Kobe, you've won again, but Jordan won more, so ha!"

Everyone agrees that players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Tim Duncan sit at the top of basketball's elite plateau. Interestingly enough, none of them are compared to Jordan the way Kobe is.

I've yet to read an article where Bird and Magic are compared throughout to Jordan, but I've read enough to last me for a lifetime of Jordan and Kobe. Why is that?

Because Kobe is the best player we've seen since Michael, before and after. Never has a player reflected the will and leadership combined with ultimate skills that Jordan has like Kobe Bean Bryant, period.

Name someone, I challenge you. I challenge you to name someone who has accomplished what Kobe has at 30. Give it a whirl.

Nobody has. Nobody.

Not Magic, not Bird, not Jordan, not one soul. Look it up.

As I said in my last Kobe piece, no player in NBA history has had to endure the verbal lashings that Bryant has just to be great. No other player has been compared to Jordan so vehemently and often.

I don't ever remember hearing someone say that Duncan, Bird, Magic or Dr. J is overrated. Not once, but Kobe Bryant is? There is no rationale to such a terrible argument, but somehow Jordan becomes the scapegoat for such nonsense.

Out of the many myths I've heard regarding Bryant, here's three that make the least sense, but are regurgitated time and time again.


3. Michael Jordan Was a Far Better Shooter Than Kobe Bryant

It just cracks me up when I hear or read someone saying this myth as a reason that Jordan is far superior to Bryant. Look at the statistics, it simply isn't true.

Factually speaking, Bryant is a far better three-point shooter, Jordan is a better shooter inside the arc and they are dead even from the line.

Keep in mind that Bryant played in an era of more complicated defenses, bigger, faster and stronger opponents and constant double-teams. Here is a sample of both players' first eight seasons percentages, not including Kobe's rookie season because he only started six games:

Bryant FG percent: 43, 47, 47, 46, 47, 45, 44, 43

Jordan FG percent: 52, 46, 48, 54, 54, 53, 54, 52

Jordan was the more consistent shooter, but not by as much as one would think based on how much that is used against Bryant. If you think there's a slight disparity here, wait until you see the three-point shooting comparison.

Bryant 3PT FG percent: 34, 27, 32, 31, 25, 38, 33, 34

Jordan 3PT FG percent: 17, 17, 18, 13, 28, 38, 31, 27

Both players improved further in their careers from the three-point line, but Kobe is a far better shooter from long distance. I won't do a line-by-line comparison of free throws, as they both are 81 percent career shooters from the line.


2. Kobe Bryant Didn't Pass the Ball for Most of His Career

This is another myth that people use as heavy artillery against Bryant, but it couldn't be further from the truth.

Kobe has always been a good passer, and even when he went through a few tough years without anybody of extreme talent on his team, he still averaged more assists than nearly 80 percent of the league.

Jordan was a more willing passer early in his career, but not to the extreme that the media and naysayers would make you think. Here's a comparison of both players first ten seasons of assists per game.

Bryant: 2.5, 3.8, 4.9, 5.0, 5.5, 5.9, 5.1, 6.0, 4.5, 5.4= 48.6

Jordan: 5.9, 2.9, 4.6, 5.9, 8.0, 6.3, 5.5, 6.1, 5.5, 5.3= 56

The numbers tell the story. Bryant was a very consistent passer after his second year, and both legends are almost even in total assists per game in their first ten seasons, respectively. Kobe still didn't pass the ball?


1. Kobe Bryant Didn't Play Well in His Playoff Appearances

I've read correspondence recently that challenges Kobe's numbers in the playoffs and Finals, and compares them to players like Duncan and Charles Barkley. Again, another well-dressed up myth.

When you are a guard with a monster like Shaquille O'Neal in the paint, you simply don't have to do as much. It's not fair to compare Bryant's numbers in the Finals with Shaq to what he did in the playoffs without O'Neal.

He simply didn't have to take over games. Why? When you have a man like O'Neal as your center, you ride him to championships. How can Bryant be blamed for that? It's not like Bryant did nothing in the playoffs with Shaq.

Let's compare Kobe, Shaq and Jordan's playoff statistics.

Kobe Bryant: 45% FG, 33% 3PT FG, 81% FT, 5.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, 25.0 PPG, 4 titles

Michael Jordan: 49% FG, 33% 3PT FG, 83% FT, 6.4 RPG, 5.7 APG, 33.4 PPG, 6 titles

Shaquille O'Neal: 56% FG, 50% FT, 12.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 25.2 PPG, 4 titles

Other than Shaq obviously having a better field-goal percentage and higher rebounding percentage because he's a big man, these statistics aren't all so different.

Jordan's stats were slightly higher, but to call Kobe overrated based on these numbers is like calling Einstein stupid. You lose all credibility by making that type of sweeping, unproven statement.

As I said in defending Kobe Bryant in the past, it's time to sit back and enjoy the unique talents and abilities he brings to the game.

It doesn't matter who's better between Jordan, Kobe or LeBron. All of them are supreme to their competition, and command more respect than being called overrated.

There are a few guys who enter the category of elite status, where no matter how you try and explain yourself, calling them overrated in their profession is just plain ridiculous.

You don't have to like them, but you have to respect what they've done. Guys like Kobe, Shaq, Jordan, Bird, Federer, Woods, James and Jay-Z.

Take it or leave it. And that's word to Bill Simmons.







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