There are always going to be comparisons made between Kobe and MJ .
It is inevitable because of the greatness of both players. There is absolutely no escaping it and in truth, as long as the conversation doesn't devolve into hurling insults, then it can all be pretty fun.
In honor of this comparison, and in light of all the talk lately about Kobe being better than MJ, and nobody having accomplished what Bryant had by the age of 30, I figured it was time for someone to stand up for MJ .
I'm from the West Side of Chicago, and was a nine-year-old kid, when Jordan first set foot in the original Chicago Stadium as a rookie.
I've seen the entire careers of both men (granted Bryant is not done yet, but I've seen it all to this point.)
I saw Michael Jordan be great from the very start, where as a 21-year-old rookie, he played all 82 games and averaged 28.2 ppg 6.5 rpg and 5.9 apg .
His 13 years as a Chicago Bull were the epitome of greatness (11 full seasons and two seasons where he only played 17-18 games due to injury and returning from retirement.)
Literally, almost each and every moment was spectacular.
Jordan played about 930 games as a Bull, and scored in double figures in 929 of those games. The only time he failed to do so, was against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1986, and that was due to a seven minute limit put on him for each half when he returned from a broken foot for the last 15 games of the regular season. (This is the same year that he went on to score 49 and 63 against the mighty Boston Celtics in the playoffs when the time restriction was lifted.)
He played 179 playoff games and failed to score 20 points, only six times (15 was the lowest he ever scored in a playoff game.)
Let me throw a few more numbers at you:
Regular Season Numbers (1072 games)
30.1 ppg 6.2 rpg 5.3 apg 0.497 FG % 0.327% 3pt FG
Playoff Numbers (179 games)
33.4 ppg 6.4 rpg 5.7 apg 0.487% FG 0.332% 3pt FG
NBA Finals Numbers (35 games)
33.6 ppg 6 rpg 6 apg 0.481% FG 0.367% 3pt FG
Michael Jordan was the model of consistency. From start to finish, Michael Jordan was absolutely phenomenal.
After his fourth year in the league, there was legitimate talk of him being the greatest player of all time if he could win championships because he undeniably become the best player of that modern time.
Michael Jordan didn't have any of the up and down moments that Kobe is known to have from time to time.
None of those, “is he trying to prove a point by not shooting” games.
None of the garbage. Straight ballin’ at all times and the results speak for themselves.
As for the playoffs and who is the better scorer, Kobe has yet to finish one single post season with a ppg average as high as MJs career 179 post season game average!!
In fact, let me blow your mind here, of all the series that Kobe has played in he has only matched MJs 179 game career playoff average of 33.4 ppg in THREE SERIES (35 ppg in second round against Sacramento in 2001, 33.5 ppg in first round against Denver in 2008 and 34 ppg in West Finals against Denver in 2009)
And we all know how six of MJs seasons ended up. Not only did MJ score big, he won big and in dramatic fashion while going undefeated in his NBA Finals appearances.
He wasn't some hopeless gunner on some losing team. And you better believe me when I tell you that Jordan dealt with just as many double and triple teams in his career as Kobe has.
Probably more because those double teams started after he lit up the Milwaukee Bucks for 37 in his third game as a pro.
Also, there was quite a bit more physical play.
Today there are several great guards and they all seem to be able to get to the basket without paying any sort of price at all. I can tell you with great confidence that there was a price to be paid for guards going into the lane back in the 80s and 90s.
Michael Jordan paid that price (The picture at the top of the article pays a bit of homage to this and there probably wasn't even a foul called on the play.) Kobe didn't have to.
Now that's not to say he couldn't have . One of the things I love about Kobe is his old school mentality. He would have gladly faced the sort of physical challenges MJ dealt with . But if Kobe cannot put up MJ numbers in today's game then there is no way he would have done so in the 80s/90s.
Add to this the fact that MJ relied nowhere near as heavily on the three-point shot as Kobe does.
It wasn't until MJs sixth year in the league that he finally took over 100 three-point shots in a season yet he still averaged 33 ppg (Also averaged seven rbds, six asts and three stls that season for good measure) and was the preeminent offensive weapon in the league despite the fact that everybody knew he was the only guy on the team who could score and they know he was going to the basket.
Kobe has taken 100+ three-point attempts every year of his career.
Jordan took 100+ three-point attempts 6 times.
MJ specialized in taking very difficult and well defended shots and making them a very high percentage of the time.
Kobe also specializes in taking and making very difficult and very well defended shots at an increasingly high percentage.
This has caused some people to say Kobe makes tougher shots than Jordan.
I disagree. This underscores another area that MJ was superior to Kobe in.
MJ made a lot of shots look easy because he was the absolute King of creating space to get his shot off.
Whereas Kobe likes to isolate off the dribble to create space, Jordan would simply give you a jab or rocker step. Or, if he had you posted up he would give you some sort of head and shoulder fake.
In some cases he would give you the very much underrated crossover he had but most of the time it was something very fundamental that created all the space he needed.
MJ would get you out of position defensively to create space for many of the shots he took.
In case you didn't know, MJ hit his share of “in-your-face” shots as well. Jordan's forays into the lane and his finishing ability at the basket are the stuff of pure legend , but MJ to this day is unmatched in his ability to create good looks at the basket.
I was asked who had accomplished what Kobe had by the age of 30 and I listed MJ .
Here is a list of Kobe's very impressive accomplishments before 30:
- Three Championships
- Two Scoring Titles
- One Regular Season MVP
- One NBA Finals MVP
- Three All-Star Game MVPs
- One Gold Medal
- 11 NBA All-Star Appearances (Would have been 12 but 98'-99' season was only 50 games)
- Seven time All-NBA First Team
- Seven time All-NBA Defensive First Team
- 81 pt game vs. Raptors
- Nine Consecutive 40 pt games (Tied with MJ )
- Four Consecutive 50 pt games (Jordan only had three in a row)
Here is what MJ did before the age of 30:
- Three Championships
- Three Finals MVP Awards
- Three Regular Season MVP Awards
- Seven Scoring Titles
- Rookie of the Year
- Seven time All-NBA First Team (Second Team All-NBA his rookie year and would have no doubt been First team if not for broken foot in 85-86’ that caused him to miss all but 18 regular season games)
- Defensive Player of the Year (Won regular season MVP the same season as well)
- Two Gold Medals
- One All-Star game MVP
- Led the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for Seven years straight and finished second another season (his rookie season.) I've never been a metrics guy but whether or not we like it the PER is an adequate measure of a player’s true value if he's playing a significant number of minutes. MJ’s lowest PER was 19.3 as a 40-year-old Washington Wizard. 31.7 was his highest (matched by LeBron James last season) and he has four of the five highest of all time. Also has the highest career PER of any player at 27.9 which is about 1.3 pts above LeBron James and 4.5 pts above Kobe Bryant (for good measure Dwyane Wade has a career 25.67 PER)
- Six time all defensive first team performer by age 30 (One second team).
- Selected as a starter for nine all-star games by age 30 but only played eight due to being injured in the 85-86 season. So before he was 30, every year he played he was voted in as a starter.
- Led the league in steals for three years before the age of 30
- First player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season…and he did this TWICE before the age of 30.
- Seven triple doubles in a row…then missed a triple double by a three rebounds and then went on to record three more triple doubles in a row before the age of 30 (Bulls were 9-6 in MJs triple double games that season)
- Second most consecutive triple doubles — Seven (tied with Oscar Robertson)
- Nine Consecutive 40 pt games (Tied with Kobe)
- Scored 3,000 pts in a season
- Scored over 25 pts in 40 consecutive games...On two different occasions. For some perspective , Kevin Durant scored over 25 pts in 29 consecutive games this season which was far and away the best.
- Only player to score 40 pts in four consecutive NBA Finals games
- Highest average ppg in Finals history (41.0 against Phoenix in 1993)
- Highest average apg in Finals history by non-PG (11.4 against Lakers in 1991)
- Only player to score over 20 pts in every NBA Finals game appeared in (Appeared in 17 NBA Finals games before the age of 30).
Kobe is great but any objective fan has to admit that Jordan's list of accomplishments before 30 surpasses his at most and at the VERY LEAST is equal to that of Kobe's. But numbers don't tell the whole story.
Kobe Bryant grew into the dominant force that he is today. MJ was the ultimate weapon from day one.
Even as he was a 40-year-old man on the Washington Wizards playing 82 games and averaging 20 pts and six rpg while becoming the oldest player in league history to score 40 pts he was still dangerous.
Again, Kobe is great. He is without a doubt my favorite player in the league today. But Michael did things that Kobe cannot match (Kobe will never be 10 time scoring champ, will never be defensive player of the year, will never win six finals MVPs , will never get 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, will never be the most efficient player in the league by any measure, etc…)
The only thing Kobe did that Michael cannot match is score 62 pts in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks and go into the fourth quarter with a 62-61 lead.
What Kobe did in that game against Dallas is the single most impressive basketball feat of all time in my opinion. The only question I have is why does Kobe not have a history of throwing up such big games in the post season when LA really needs them (Detroit 2004/Boston 2008???)
For all of his scoring prowess he only has 11 40 pt games in his playoff career. This is unacceptable IF he’s going to be compared to Michael Jordan (MJ had 38 40 pt playoff games – 19 of his 40 pt playoff games came during the championship years from 1991 to 1998 and he didn't play in 93'-94' and was eliminated early in 94'-95'.)
All of Kobe's truly great accomplishments happened during the regular season (The lone exceptions being the Finals MVP awards he's won and the championships go without saying.)
IF he's going to be compared to MJ then he has to do much more because MJ has a list of regular season accomplishments that is more impressive than Kobe's but the post season is where reputations are made and legends are forged.
Kobe is no doubt a bonafide superstar!! If he were to retire today, he would have to be declared top 10 ALL-TIME and I don't see how anybody could argue.
It's as simple as that to for me. Let not his greatness be questioned and let's not use the MJ /Kobe debate to minimize Kobe Bryant, a living legend in his own right, and on his own merit.
But again, when you talk about Kobe in comparison with MJ then the scales tilt, noticeably in MJs favor when you truly look at what both did, how they did it and the effect they had on the game.
There are those who say Kobe never had a wingman like Scottie who could set up the offense and defend other great wing players. But that's failing to acknowledge that the offense ran through MJ .
MJ was not only the playmaker but also the primary post up player for the Bulls when they were winning titles (Bill Cartwright, Luc Longley and Bill Wennington were all jump shooting big men when they were Bulls.)
As for the defense, MJ had 200+ steals in five of the seasons he played with Pippen and was first team All-Defense every year he played with Pippen and he was joined on the first team by Pippen in seven seasons. And Pippen didn't become an all-star until 1990 and didn't even make the All-Star game the season the Bulls won their first title.
Michael Jordan was as ferocious a defender as he was an offender and together Jordan and Pippen formed the greatest defensive wing duo the NBA has ever seen and may have individually, at their peaks, been the two greatest perimeter defenders ever.
Then there are those who will say MJ never had to compete with Shaq or Pau Gasol for shots.
That's true, but during the Kobe/Shaq hey-day, Kobe averaged over 22 shots per game and in the last two seasons. I challenge anyone to say Kobe couldn't take whatever shot he wanted.
During the Bulls championship runs, MJ averaged about 25 shots per game. There isn't much difference there. It's not like Kobe didn't get shot attempts and had to defer to some great extent to Shaq . But for me, ultimately, it's the eyeball test.
I saw the great majority of games MJ played in. If it was on TV I saw it, or I was there because, being from Chicago, I went to a few games when I was younger.
I've also seen just about every game Kobe Bryant has played thanks to NBA League Pass (Had it since the 95-96’ season so I could see every Bulls game that year.)
The eyeball test tells me that MJ is better. Not just because of the numbers, but because of everything else he was and the sheer impact that he had on EVERY GAME he played in.
His presence on the court was like nothing I've ever seen before or since.
Michael Jordan was a force of nature. As determined, as driven and as deadly as Kobe Bryant is —and he is very much all those things —Michael Jordan was just more of all those things and then he was also the most imposing player on the court despite his size.
When he was a Bull and had the physical ability to do whatever he wanted, his will was simply too much for anyone to overcome.
This guy wanted it all more than anybody and by acclamation and numerical measures it's plain to see that he simply went out and took what he wanted.
Let me close by saying that I love Kobe's game.
People, we better watch Kobe closely because before you know it he will be gone and we will have let one of the game's greatest and most special gifts ever pass right before our eyes without truly having appreciated him.
Everybody appreciated MJ and Kobe longs for that adoration. Everyone may not have liked MJ, but they recognized his greatness and ultimately came to revel in it. Let's do the same for Kobe. But in doing so, understand that Kobe is the first Kobe and not the next Jordan.
There is a Mt. Olympus of basketball. MJ , Russell, Chamberlain, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, Bird, Duncan, Olajuwon, Robertson, Dr.J, Shaq , Isiah, etc… all sit there, but they’ll tell you to a man that MJ is the best (except Chamberlain who would NEVER admit to such a thing and routinely referred to Jordan as the second greatest player of all-time.)
I’ve added a video to this post. I’ll let Danny Ainge , Kenny Smith , Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson sum it up for you.
They had this conversation a few days after last year’s NBA Finals ended and shortly before the 2009 NBA draft. Listen to how definitive they are. And keep in mind that Danny Ainge played with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and he's Magic Johnson!!! These guys played with and against the best and listen to how definitive they are in stating Jordan's place in the game.
I know it was long, but I hope you guys have enjoyed the read.
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Here is a lil' bonus MJ video
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