Winner’s Outs’ NBA Battle of Legends this week goes with two of the best perimeter players ever, with arguably the best, Michael Jordan, against, Kobe Bryant, a guy who isn’t done yet and has his own things to say and prove about the argument. In the spirit of March Madness, this is the battle of a former College Player of the Year (twice), in MJ versus a guy who didn’t even need to go to college, in Kobe. While college is a normally the path to improve your game, I can’t help but recite the old line that the only person who ever held MJ under 20 points a game was his college coach at North Carolina, Dean Smith. Kobe proved he was already ready for the primetime and skipped it all. But, I digress. Back to our battle.
So,let's settle this once and for all. Please remember, this is not a team matchup but one on one, in the ultimate legend fantasy basketball game. Both players in their Primes.
Our Scouting Report on both players will address how they would matchup in a one on one game. Let's start with Michael.
Michael Jordan was the ultimate basketball player. Talented beyond belief but had the work ethic to mine those talents into one of the most skilled players ever. He was like a Ferrari that was already amazing but then he improved year after year and made it hum even better. Underneath the talent and skills laid one of the most competitive streaks the NBA has ever known. He combined all three of these traits into the most creative and deadly player the league has ever seen. And, in the modern area of the TV dominated, global NBA, Jordan’s 6 rings stands as the benchmark, even though Russell, as great as he was, has more, the Celtic great played in an entirely different era and league.
On the offensive side of the ball, MJ had no real weaknesses. In his prime, he could fly, was creative in the lane, could finish with force and had a solid outside shot. His midrange game is still under-appreciated and while he didn’t really get his post game going until later in his career and, for Winner’s Outs, probably past his prime year, MJ could do it all. The argument could be made his long distance shooting was the weakest area of his game but that probably isn’t fair or accurate. He could always hit a big shot from three point-land (see the Portland Finals as evidence.) He had the killer instinct and never, I mean ever, shied away from the ball in his hands, wanting to take the final shot. He didn’t hit them all but he hit plenty enough to remember.
For all the accolades on the offensive side that MJ received, his defense might also rank as one of the best ever. There was a reason why he and Scottie Pippen were referred to, at least around the league, as “The Dobermans” because they really would get after it. And, unlike other greats who turned it on and off (even Kobe can be guilty of this today at brief, and I mean brief, times), MJ went with the same intensity against the Clippers as he did the Knicks. Michael was a great defender, on the ball and off and could completely hold his own in the paint, even on bigger guys.
Kobe Bryant was literally born and destined to be a great basketball player. Like MJ, he possess unheralded physical talent, he improves each year on every aspect of his game, and he isn’t called the Black Mamba for nothing. I could argue his competitive streak might be the strongest the NBA has ever seen, over Magic and even Michael. Kobe was a far better player at 18 that MJ ever dreamed of being but that is to be expected, because of Kobe’s pedigree (growing up with an NBA player dad and his friends both in the league and when his dad played Europe ball.) Like MJ, Kobe also came into the league a “high fly act”, creative beyond belief in the air, and an amazing finisher. As was the case with MJ, Kobe wasn’t the strongest or purest outside shooter but that was only in the beginning of his career. I can safely say that Kobe is by far a better outside shooter than MJ. His range is nearly unlimited and he simply has a great outside shot. Kobe can take it to the rim off of either hand, has a fantastic mid-range game, and is improving year after year with his post play. Like Jordan, as the miles go up on the body and the spring in the step wanes, Kobe is doing more and more of his damage in the post. He is lucky, like MJ, that as his game changes, the triangle offense is so adaptive, he simply goes into the post spot instead of one of the perimeter ones.
Kobe has been on the all-defensive team 9 times (7 on the 1st; 2 on the 2nd) and rightfully so. He is quick, strong and can handle every assortment of on the ball defense. He can even chase a Reggie Miller styled player through the myriad and obstacle course of picks. Also, Kobe can be counted on for a steal or two a game because of quick hands. His one area of weakness, and I dare even use that word with Kobe, is his post defense. But I have to qualify what I mean here. Kobe can handle every perimeter player in the paint, when they drive. My only issue are the actual post up guard/small forward types, that make their living in the paint, instead of the face-up game. Kobe can struggle from time to time against a bigger guard, who is probably much more slower than Kobe but has real post moves. That type of player, although rare, could simply back Kobe down and go to work. But again, I say, that is super rare. And, I want to be clear, Kobe’s best quality offsets any minor defaults on the defense side of the ball. Kobe is a true warrior, I’m talking real Gladiator style. He has the mind, the heart, and determination that sets him apart and ranks as one of the true guys to go to battle with.
To summarize the scouting report, I won’t make the final call, nor will anyone on my panel. I’ll let the last comment for you to contemplate come from the man who knows both players in our matchup better than anyone. Phil Jackson, who has coached both players, probably gives the best insight into our battle. Simply put, the Zen Master has said that while both MJ and Kobe are terribly similar, MJ took and got easier shots. This is all a derivative of choice. MJ made things look easy; Kobe has a tendency to over dribble and thus, makes it harder on himself that it ever needs to be. So, that doesn’t mean Kobe isn’t a better scorer or that MJ was, it’s just that MJ might have been more efficient. But again, that was in the team game. We’re talking one on one and in our head to head, the ball going in the hoop is all that matters.
This pairing is too good to do in a summary form, as we do most of our Legend Battles here at Winner’s Outs. So, instead, we’ll take you point by point, as MJ and Kobe go head to head. Some of the key things we think each player will focus on are as follows:
MJ will more than likely not settle for much outside as he is too savvy. Instead, we see MJ going to the basket in all the ways he’s capable of. That means dribble between the leg drives, soaring to the hoop, and his post and fadeaway game. Against Kobe, who has what we think is equal quickness and foot speed, MJ will rely on his creativity, his skill with both hands, and his strong mid/post games, with his patented fadeaways sprinkled in.
Kobe, he’ll take some chances from the outside and, because he is not only a better shooter but cold-blooded, he’ll capitalize on his outside jumpers. That will also really keep MJ off balance, which we feel is always the #1 key in one on one. Hitting some outside shots make players have to come closer and then that’s when guards and forwards go to the hoop. When the outside shot is cooking, it opens up and sets the table for the rest of your game. Kobe will work this plan to perfection. He’ll do his thing, just like MJ, as he gets into the paint with creativity, leaping, and finishing. And, he’ll take some shots that no one else would ever take or, make.
So, let’s see how it plays out.
The Game- Point by Point
-Outs: MJ shoots and makes a 3 pointer. His outs.
-MJ faces up, fakes left and drive right. Kobe sticks right with him. Near free throw line elbow, MJ spins and faces his back to Kobe. He starts to back Kobe down. Kobe responds and holds firm. MJ picks up dribble, spins to baseline. Kobe matches the move but MJ fades away and shoots 12 footer for a score. MJ-1. Kobe- 0.
-MJ faces up. He fakes a three pointer but Kobe doesn’t bite. MJ drives left, dribbles through his legs and drive hard right down the lane. Kobe matches every step. At the free throw line, MJ stops and rises. He nails a 15 footer. MJ- 2. Kobe- 0.
-MJ faces up. He fakes right and goes left. Kobe bodies up. MJ can’t get around him. MJ lowers his shoulder and drive toward the baseline. Kobe bumps back and funnels him away from the key. MJ slows, and turns his body into Kobe. MJ tries backing Kobe down but he holds his ground. MJ picks up dribble and fakes his baseline fadeaway. Kobe starts to bite and MJ steps through. But he doesn’t get much lift and Kobe blocks the shot from behind. Kobe tracks the ball down.
Kobe clears ball at top of key. He starts to drive hard, then pulls up and nails 18 footer. MJ-2. Kobe- 1.
-Kobe faces up. He mimics MJ with multiple dribbles between the legs, then bolts left, switches hands, and drives right. MJ is right with him. Kobe pulls up at elbow and fakes a shot. MJ stays planted. Another Kobe fake. No bite. Third Kobe fake. MJ bites and slams Kobe. Kobe calls foul and takes ball back out.
-Kobe faces up. Kobe stabs left. MJ reacts and it creates the seperation Kobe was looking for. Kobe launches deep shot that finds the net. MJ-2. Kobe- 2.
-Kobe faces up. He fakes a shot. MJ doesn’t bite. Kobe snakes right, then spins into the lane. He rises and fades away. MJ is right with him, hanging and reaching for the block. He doesn’t touch ball but Kobe’s shot is short and glances off the front of the rim. MJ tracks the ball down.
-MJ clears ball at top of the key. MJ moves left and slows like he’s going to pull up. Kobe reacts and closes in. MJ springs forward and blows by Kobe for a left handed dunk. MJ- 3. Kobe-2.
-MJ faces up. He drives hard right, spins, dribbles behind his back and to the right again. Kobe is right with him but MJ lowers shoulder and continues right. He elevates and banks in a five footer. MJ-4. Kobe- 2.
-MJ faces up. He dribbles right and turns his back toward Kobe. MJ backs Kobe down past the right elbow. Dribbling with his left hand, MJ fakes a spin and drop step, and instead, picks up his dribble, veers right and rises. He swishes a 12 foot fadeaway. MJ-5. Kobe-2. Kobe claps and yells to himself that he has to get the ball back.
-MJ faces up. He takes two hard dribbles and pulls up. He launches a 17 footer but misses. Kobe tracks the down the rebound.
-Kobe clears ball at top of key. He dribbles left, then behind his back, continues right as MJ mirrors the move. Kobe drives hard into the lane, spins and uses his left for a soft 5 footer. MJ-5. Kobe-3.
-Kobe faces up. He springs hard left. MJ forces him out. Kobe turns and tries to back MJ down. MJ matches the force and holds his ground. Kobe dribbles with his right hand, fakes a drop step and steps into the lane. MJ recovers and rises to block the shot. Kobe pump fakes and steps through and hits a left handed 8 footer. MJ-5. Kobe-4.
-Kobe faces up. Kobe flies right, then crosses over. MJ is right there and gets his hand on the ball. It hits Kobe in the leg and trickles to the sideline. Both players scramble. Kobe reaches for the ball but MJ crashes into him and gets a hand on the ball. Kobe forces a hand on the ball as well and the ball goes out of bounds. Both men argue for five minutes on whose outs it is. Kobe takes 3 pointer to settle things and swishes the shot. Kobe’s outs.
-Kobe faces up. He makes his move right, drives hard to the baseline. MJ funnels him down lower. Kobe fakes a spin the lane then drops steps right. Looks like a clean lay-up until MJ recovers and blocks shot from behind. MJ tracks the ball down.
-MJ clears ball at top of the key. He dribbles into the lane, spins left and posts Kobe up on the left block. He backs Kobe down, then catches Kobe leaning right and in. When he does, MJ spins and goes left, takes one dribble and rises. He flies under the basket and lays the ball in on the right side. MJ-6. Kobe-4.
-MJ faces up. He jabs left, jabs right, and then bolts right. Kobe marries up. MJ slows, then speeds up, lowers shoulder and cuts around Kobe. MJ reaches baseline and takes off. He soars up, feels Kobe on his side, so MJ continues and floats to the other side and flicks down a powerful left handed dunk. MJ-7. Kobe- 4.
-MJ faces up. He immediately spins and backs into Kobe, pushing him down toward free throw line. MJ shifts back and forth with his dribble, from one hand to the other, looking for an opportunity. Kobe is too good of a defender but he is losing ground. MJ makes final fake spin left, then picks up dribble and shifts right. He looks to rise. Kobe leaps, ready to send the ball into the stands, but MJ fakes and steps through, jumps off one foot and launches a soft 12 footer for another swish. Kobe swears as the two walk back up top. MJ-8. Kobe-4.
-MJ faces up. He fakes left. Kobe steps back and MJ launches a 3 that rims in and out. MJ was looking for the dagger and barely missed it. Kobe hustles and tracks down rebound.
-Kobe clears ball and doesn’t waste time. He picks up speed and drives hard right. MJ cuts Kobe off. Kobe spins and leaps and rises. MJ is right there but Kobe keeps ball on his left side and at last moment, reaches out and drops ball on left side of rim. MJ-8. Kobe-5.
-Kobe faces up. Kobe darts left full speed. MJ bumps him off line but Kobe drops head and bulls toward baseline. He crashes into MJ, and stops. He rises. MJ reacts late and jumps. He can’t reach the ball, so he smacks Kobe’s arm. Foul.
-Kobe faces up. He fakes a shot, then jabs left and MJ bites. Kobe launches another 3. Swish. MJ-8. Kobe-7.
-Kobe faces up. He darts right and drives, then spins and tries backing MJ down. MJ bumps back like a center and nearly knocks Kobe to the ground. No harm, no foul. Kobe dribbles with left and fakes a spin, then makes a quick drop step. He continues the spin and sets up a baseline fade. But as he spins and rises, MJ smacks ball with quick hands and ball skirts toward top of key. MJ rushes, knocks Kobe with his shoulder and snatches ball. MJ mouths a typical trash talk comment. The warrior Kobe ignores him and simply glares back.
-MJ clears. He immediately turns and faces his back to Kobe. Kobe steps closer and lowers knee to stop backing down, but MJ breaks from the backdown move, spins, and faces up. He crosses over and drives hard right, Kobe now a step behind. MJ rises, Kobe reacts and tries to block shot but bashes MJ’s left side. MJ continues after hard contact and shoots ball of glass. Swish. MJ-9. Kobe-7.
-MJ faces up. He dribbles twice between his legs and goes side to side to the left. He continues to probe. Kobe drops lower and is ready for anything. MJ fakes hard drive baseline and pulls back. He rises. Kobe extends and gets a finger on the ball but MJ gets it off. Rattles on rim but gets shooter’s touch. MJ-10. Kobe-7. Game point for MJ.
MJ faces up. He fakes right, drives left. At mid-key, he turns and backs Kobe down. MJ fakes drive to middle, picks up dribble and spins baseline. He fades but Kobe knows the move too well and rises. He times the ball out of MJ’s hand and blocks the shot. Kobe tracks ball down.
-Kobe clears and crosses over. He fakes hard drive right and immediately rises. He swishes another 3 pointer. MJ-10. Kobe-9.
-Kobe faces up. He fakes another 3 pointer and MJ rises on his toes slightly. Kobe springs left but MJ jabs hip into him, sending him east/west, away from direct drive. Kobe continues baseline and rises. He shoots a 15 foot bank for a swish. MJ-10; Kobe-10
-Game is to 11 but must win by 2.
-Kobe faces up and drives hard right, crosses over then drives baseline. MJ sticks like glue. Kobe is forced out to 15 foot range. He pulls up and fakes a shot. MJ doesn’t bite. Another Kobe fake. No bite. On the 3rd, Kobe rises and fades. MJ is late and Kobe gets shot off over MJ’s fingertips for a bucket that rattles home. Kobe-11; MJ-10.
-Kobe faces up. He fakes jumper, drives left then spins back into lane. He rises and hangs but MJ is right there and gets a piece of the shot. Ball bounces off front of rim and both players scramble for loose rebound. MJ comes out with the the ball.
-MJ clears and drives hard left, then slows, crosses over and switches gears back into the paint. He pulls up for shot. Kobe is right with him but bites on the pump fake in the lane. MJ steps through and banks in a 5 footer. MJ-11; Kobe-11.
-MJ faces up. He takes off right and Kobe marries up. MJ is forced baseline. He lowers shoulders to drive and Kobe backpedals. MJ immediately rises and banks a 12 footer, a la Tim Duncan, for another point. MJ-12; Kobe-11.
-MJ faces up. He drives hard right. He fakes spin left and then backs down Kobe. Kobe won’t give ground and pushes back. MJ keeps faking moves. He pulls up dribble, fakes spin baseline for his patented move and Kobe finally bites. MJ rises at elbow and shifts left for the winning shot. Swish. Game. MJ-13. Kobe-11. MJ wins in Overtime.
Final Score(OT): Michael Jordan- 13; Kobe Bryant- 11
Let the Debate Begin!!
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