Amidst the multiplicity of commentators, basketball purists, fans, and statisticians who have waxed poetic over who is the better basketball player, MJ or Kobe, it is time to definitively expose the difference between the two players.
In order to do so, we must take a momentary look at two other disciplines: theology and psychology.
For many faiths there is a foundational theological presupposition which states that all humanity suffers from a level of imperfection. Nominally called sin, it does not speak to wickedness, but rather to being "less than perfect" from an ontological standpoint.
In laymen's terms, "Nobody is perfect."
In psychology, this state of being is equated with a term which essentially means the same thing: pathology.
Everybody has a pathology. Couples find this when they split and find new partners. The grass is rarely greener on the other side, and although sometimes it is, it just means that the new partner has a pathology that better suits them.
Greatness is often found when a person embraces his or her pathology and uses it to fuel something good, something productive.
The essential difference between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is not athleticism, statistics, personality, or any of the things that we often use to measure greatness.
The difference between Jordan and Kobe is pathology.
From the time he was a child, MJ felt he had to prove himself. Unable to defeat his brother on the basketball court for years, he developed a pathological need to win. Getting cut from his high school team further exacerbated that pathology, and his career was marked by an inherent need to prove that he was the best.
During his Hall of Fame speech, the world learned what many others already knew. Michael has a pathological need to win.
He was motivated to not only defeat, but to destroy anyone in front of him. That's why most of the guards that the Bulls drafted during his tenure didn't last in the league. He destroyed their confidence in practice and they never recovered.
Michael said that his entire family life was fueled by competition; his younger sister even skipped a grade to graduate at the same time he did.
Competition with a pathological need to win can be a terrible thing in life, but on the court there is nothing greater.
Kobe, the privileged son of an established athlete, modeled much of his game and attitude on MJ. A purer shooter and amazing athlete, Kobe's career will mark him as one of the best ever.
He is highly competitive and has a need to win, but doesn't have MJ's pathology.
In many ways, this is a good thing. His relationship with his wife and children aren't the same as Jordan's, and there is hope that his family will stay together after his basketball career is over.
That said, in basketball, this different pathology separates him from the greatness of Michael on the court. The current series against the Celtics in the Finals shows this.
Kobe has yet to figure out how to beat the defense that the Celtics are playing against him. MJ never faced a defense that he couldn't figure out.
The difference: the pathological need to win, and the energy and atmosphere that need created for his teammates to succeed.
Kobe is great beyond telling, but if he had Jordan's pathology, he would be the greatest basketball player who ever played. Greater than even Jordan himself.