Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan will be forever linked due to the similarity of their games, style, talent, and will to succeed. However, there are differences in the make-up of each player that help define the endless debate on who is greater.
There are some who would argue that Jordan is not the best player in the history of the game, but he is the greatest player of his generation and belongs near the top of any list concerning the NBA's greatest players.
Jordan was the most athletic, skilled, and driven player of his time, and his physical gifts were only surpassed by his knowledge and keen understanding of the game.
Jordan was always the most talented player on the court, but his true greatness was found in his approach and ability to seize the moment at the end of important games.
His Airness defined the term clutch, but for Jordan, it went much deeper than just scoring at the most opportune moments, because his decision-making in pivotal situations was incomparable.
Jordan never seemed to make mistakes when it mattered most. This is an example of his mental maturity, an area in which he holds a distinct advantage over Bryant.
As far as physical skills go, Bryant stands on an even par with Jordan, and there are some places where he is actually better, such as his outside game, which is an underrated aspect of Bryant's talent.
But last night's Game Four loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals provided an example of why Bryant will never measure up to Jordan in the eyes of many people, and deservedly so.
Bryant made several key mistakes when the game was still in doubt, and none were bigger than his errant pass late in the fourth quarter while the Celtics were nursing a five-point lead.
It was a poor decision by Bryant because the angle on the pass was terrible, but more importantly, it's not the type of play you would expect from the most dominant player in today's game.
Great players make great plays when it matters the most, and Bryant has made his fair share, but last night's bad pass is not a new phenomenon for him. There were other instances in the game when his instincts failed him.
Rajon Rondo is a great defensive guard, but he has a tendency of allowing an opponent to dribble past him. Once they pass him, he then reaches in to dislodge the ball from behind.
This is something which has been done on playgrounds across America and is a sign of lazy defense, which is easily beaten by simply lowering your dribble or switching the ball to your other hand.
Yet Rondo was able to successfully strip Bryant of the ball on more than one occasion, even though this was something he should have been expecting and preparing to attack.
I could never imagine Jordan carelessly turning the ball over in a key situation, and he surely would have made Rondo pay for his careless indiscretions by constantly punishing his decision to play lazy defense.
Every player makes mistakes, and Jordan was no exception, but his calm, calculated demeanor and near flawless execution in critical moments separate him and Bryant as players.
Bryant's skills are not an issue when compared to Jordan's, but intangibles are, and although it would be unfair to say Bryant is not blessed in this area, he does not hold a candle to Jordan.
I'm not sure this is something Bryant can change either, because as much as his game mirrors Jordan's, this has been the major point of differentiation throughout the course of their careers.
Jordan never lost in a Finals series, and he simply never made mistakes when the game was on the line.
He was not just the best player in terms of skills, he was the best in terms of mental fortitude.
I can accept any debate based on Bryant's skill level being similar to Jordan's, but it's hard to deny Jordan's superiority in the end game situations that matter the most.