As the basketball community knows, Kobe Bryant signed a three year contract extension worth 83.5 million dollars recently. In his final season of that contract he will be making upwards of 30 million. Not a bad pay day.
Also, when that contract was signed, it spawned several articles that mentioned Kobe Bryant in the same breath as Michael Jordan (for about the 345,897th time). Most of these articles may have been only to suggest that with this extension, it allows Kobe to possibly tie or surpass Michael in number of titles, but even so, we need to stop mentioning these two in the same breath.
I will not cover up the fact that I am not Kobe's biggest fan, but I like to think I am a bit more objective about Kobe's skill and legacy than delusional Lakers fans are.
Kobe is one of the top ten players of all-time (the rest: 1. MJ, 2. Russell, 3. Wilt, 4. Kareem, 5. Magic, 6. Bird, 7. Oscar, 8. Olajuwon, 9. Shaq). He is the most deadly clutch player in the game today, and one of the most deadly to ever play the game. If my team is down by one with five seconds left in the game, I want the ball in Kobe Bryant's hands over anybody else's in the league. He's probably the hardest working, most intense superstar in the NBA. In other words, the Mamba is a beast.
But Jordan-level beast? I think not.
The thing is, many people who do compare Kobe to Jordan are not just suggesting that he will or can catch Jordan in number of titles, they suggest that Kobe can become the greatest basketball player to ever live. They say Kobe has more pure "skill" than Jordan ever had. Somebody tell that to Jordan or anybody who played against him.
I'm here to debunk the myth that Bryant can ever reach Jordan level status.
Reason One: Statistics
Jordan's overall career statistical line is one of the most impressive in NBA history- 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.8 bpg, 49.7 FG percent, 83.5 FT percent. Compare that to Kobe Bryant's career stats so far—25.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.6 bpg, 45.5 FG percent, 83.8 FT percent. Unless I'm reading those lines incorrectly, Jordan has a statistical edge in point, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and field goal percentage. And Jordan could still end up with a better free throw percentage than Bryant, while it will be near impossible for Kobe to catch Jordan in any of the other categories.
Kobe apologists will point out that Kobe came into the league at age 18 and Jordan was already well seasoned after playing three years of college ball under a legendary college coach. But take this into account: Jordan missed nearly all of his second season with injury (he averaged 37.1 points per game the following year), didn't play for almost two complete seasons in the prime of his career, and came back for two sub-par (by Jordan standards) seasons at the tender age of 38 (he still averaged a 21-5-6). All three of those things hurt his career averages rather significantly. More significantly than Kobe having to develop for a few seasons before moving into a more major role? That is hard to judge.
Reason Two: Alpha Dog Status
Michael Jordan was the clear No. 1 guy one every single one of those Bulls championship teams. His six NBA Finals MVPs back that up. Kobe was the number two guy on three of his four title teams, bringing home Finals MVP only once (with Shaq winning back-to-back-to-back Finals MVPs). Was Kobe the best number two option on a title team in NBA history? Quite possibly. But he was not the best player on any of those three-peat Lakers teams.
It seems like most people seemed to agree that Jordan was the alpha dog of the NBA, rewarding him with five Most Valuable Player awards (and probably should have been more). Kobe Bryant has one.
Jordan became the fourth guard to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Only one other guard has won it since (Gary Payton). Jordan also led the league in steals three times.
Jordan won the NBA scoring title ten times. In an eleven year stretch, the only time Jordan did not win the scoring title was when he came back from his baseball project and only played in 17 games. So essentially Jordan won 10 scoring titles in a row (he also had the led the league in total points as a rookie). That's pretty telling about who the most dominating player in the league was over that stretch.
How many scoring titles has Kobe won? Two. He won zero titles during those two years. Jordan won the scoring title every year that he won a championship.
Dominance and Michael Jordan are synonyms. Kobe Bryant doesn't quite qualify.
Reason Three: LeBron James
There is a huge obstacle standing between Kobe Bryant and the minimum of two titles he needs to start being compared to Michael Jordan. That obstacle is the 6'8" 250+ mountain that is the soon to be back-to-back NBA MVP, LeBron James.
LeBron has built the Cavs into a powerhouse, and for the second straight season they are on pace to easily capture the league's best regular season record.
There is an argument on whether James or Bryant is the best player in the league, but Jordan certainly never had anything like LeBron standing in his way of winning NBA title after NBA title.
Charles Barkley? Please. Karl Malone? Get real. LeBron's ceiling is a top ten or top five player in NBA history, something none of Jordan adversaries (besides Hakeem, whose team never peaked when Jordan's Bulls were at their apex) could ever claim.
If I had to bet, who wins more titles in the next five years, I would bet on LeBron in a heartbeat. Kobe and the Lakers will not improve drastically over the next few years, and LeBron and his Cavs are only getting better.
Kobe has had his 30th (and 31st) birthday and Pau Gasol is starting to get into the latter part of his prime. Ron Artest is going to waste away to nothing in the next few seasons.
The only hope the Lakers have to hold off the Cavaliers impending dynasty is that Andrew Bynum develops into the player they expect he could eventually be or if they flip Bynum or another key player for a true superstar in a blockbuster deal.
If the Cavaliers win the title this summer, Kobe's hopes of catching Jordan might disappear.
Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. He will never be as good or successful as Michael Jordan. I know most knowledgeable basketball fans would tend to agree with that statement, but for the one percent of the people who do not, please wake up.
Even if Kobe wins three more titles (with Finals MVP's in each), three more MVPs, and three more scoring titles his resume still wouldn't be up to the level of Jordan's. And if he does do all of those things, then it will be a huge shock to me and the basketball world considering he will celebrate his 32nd birthday this summer.
Kobe vs. MJ? Let's give it a rest.