A while back, Rick Reilly, then with Sports Illustrated, wrote a column declaring that Kobe Bryant was better than Michael Jordan.
I won't give credence to that article by starting that debate, but there is an intriguing comparison involving Kobe that I think is much more worthy of discussion.
How would Kobe Bryant compare to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson?
If you were going to start a team, which one would you pick, and in what order would you pick them?
Bird and Magic first matched up in college with Magic's Michigan State team topping Indiana State.
Bird got his revenge during the 1983-84 campaign beating the Lakers 4-3, with Bird walking away with MVP honors.
Magic and the Lakers returned the favor the next year in 1984-85 and in the '86-87 season, topping the Celts 4-2 both times with Magic copping the MVP in the '86-87 finals.
The Celtics had a 3-2 record in the Finals under Bird, while Magic and the Lakers were 5-4 in Magic's tenure.
Bird and Magic were known for saving the league after a dark period in the '70s when the NBA Finals weren't even on live TV.
Bird came out of French Lick to lead the Celtics from a 29 win season the previous year to 61 victories in his rookie season and winning the Rookie of the Year award.
He changed the complete dynamic of the team from a down period into an elite team in the '80s. He did that with talent and an understanding of the game that was second to none.
He brought a cockiness to the team that could be best exemplified by his announcement walking in the locker room of the NBA All-Star game three-point contest, when he said, "Which one of you guys is finishing second?"
Of course, he won.
Bird finished his illustrious career with an average of 24.3 ppg, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. He was also a 10-time All-Star and league MVP three times.
During his reign, the Celtics averaged 59.08 wins a season if you don't count the year he only played six games in '88-89, and 59.81 if you eliminate '91-92 when he played in 45 games.
The definition for him in the dictionary is WINNER.
Magic came out of Lansing, Michigan and burst onto the scene leading the Lakers to the championship in his rookie season.
He even took over for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the final game and played center, scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and seven assists, walking away with the MVP trophy.
Bird won the Rookie of the Year that season, but Magic took solace in his championship.
While Bird was known for a dour personality, Johnson was known for a smile that could light up a room. He made everyone around him better, and turned the Laker offense into "Showtime."
Magic finished his career with an average of 19.5 ppg, along with 11.2 assists and 7.0 rebounds. His assist average is the best in the history of the league.
He was also a three time league MVP and a 12-time All-Star.
In his first year with the team, they improved from a 47-35 record to 60-22.
During his career with the Lakers, they never won less than 54 games, and averaged 59.33 wins a season if you discount his comeback in 1995-96 after being out of the league for four years.
Kobe never had the advantage of college, coming straight from high school.
He joined a team that already had a superstar in place in Shaquille O'Neal.
He never liked playing second fiddle to Shaq, and as time went by, the relationship grew colder until a parting of the ways when the Lakers decided to keep Kobe and trade Shaq.
Kobe didn't always play nice and generally wasn't close to any of his teammates.
He also had the advantage of Shaq being there. With him constantly demanding a double-team, it made it easier for Kobe to freelance and probably enhanced his development in the league.
I think you gain confidence from success and the Lakers had a lot of that. Since Kobe has been on the Lakers, they've reached the Finals six times, winning four of them.
They're 1-1 since Kobe became the man with Shaq leaving.
Kobe is known for taking over a game and often ignoring his teammates. That's a trait that Jordan was also known for, especially earlier in his career until Phil Jackson took over.
Kobe has a lot of similarities to MJ. He seems to have copied the way he moves and his speech pattern. He even seems to have a knack for hitting game-winning shots like Jordan did, but he's not Jordan.
Jordan never lost in six tries when his team got to the Finals, and he was the MVP every year. His career numbers also dwarf Kobe's, and that's why this story isn't comparing the two of them because it just wouldn't be fair.
Kobe averages 25.3 ppg along with 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He is a 12-time NBA All-Star.
He won his only league MVP award in the 2007-08 season along with his Finals MVP last year.
With Kobe on the team, the Lakers have averaged 53.9 wins a season not counting the strike year. They also had a losing record in 2004 winning only 34 games, and less than stellar performances in 2005 with 45 wins and 42 in 2006.
Kobe strives when he has had great players around him with the Lakers. When the talent hasn't been quite as good, his teams have struggled.
You could say all three of these players had great supporting casts and you would be right.
But which ones overcame obstacles and led their teams to greatness when everything didn't go right?
I would have to say that would come down to Magic and Bird.
In my opinion, Kobe is third in this group no matter which way you slice it. That's the same opinion I got yesterday from the two guys that co-host a radio show with me.
The real question is who's No. 1?
Bird and Magic didn't come out in the same draft, so we don't have an actual answer of who Jerry West, the GM of the Lakers at the time, would have selected if he had that choice to make.
In reality, you could have flipped a coin and you couldn't have lost either way.
Neither player was an athletic freak, though their basketball IQ's were off the chart.
Kobe is that athletic freak, though his mental game is not quite as sharp.
If you stuck a gun to my head, I would go with Bird.
I think he has a slight edge, with part of my reasoning being that he is the least athletic of the group, yet what he did with the Celtics was sensational.
Do you agree with me with Bird, Magic, and then Kobe in that order?
Am I out of order?
Let me know.
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