Back in 1998 Michael Jordan defeated the Utah Jazz in game six of the NBA Finals with a last second shot that will be seen on the highlight reel for decades. The shot won him his sixth NBA Championship, and sixth NBA Finals MVP award. Soon after that game he retired for the second time and was labeled by most fans and sports writers as the greatest basketball player of all time.
Jordan came out of retirement a few years later and played two pointless seasons for the Washington Wizards as a 39 and 40 year old (the Wizards had less than twenty wins the year before Jordan joined the team).
Kobe Bryant just finished his fourteenth NBA season, won his fifth NBA title and once again the Jordan comparisons begin.
If you are one of the people starting to mention Bryant in the same sentence as Jordan, please stop. They do not belong in the same sentence, in fact, they do not even belong in the same paragraph.
Don't get me wrong, Bryant is probably a top five guard in NBA history, but all the Lakers fans and Bryant supporters need to realize the facts.
Jordan had six titles through fifteen seasons, if Bryant wins his sixth title next year (in his fifteenth season), there is still no argument.
Jordan added two sesasons on to a virtually flawless thirteen year career with the terrible Wizards of the early 2000's. And he also retired early...TWICE.
In the middle of his prime Jordan retired to play baseball, basketball had become too easy for him. In the 1993-94 season the Bulls lost in the NBA finals without Jordan. There is no question the Jordan's determination would have helped the Bulls overtake Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets as champions in 1994.
In the 1994-95 season Jordan played seventeen games and was knocked out of the playoffs in the second round because he never developed the chemistry that he had had two years prior with his Bulls teammates.
He also retired after the 1998 season when he was thirty-five after winning three consecutive championships. Jordan was still the best player in the league in 1998 and should have returned for another title run in 1999.
Critics always say Jordan had a great supporting cast, but it is definitely arguable that Bryant has had better supporting casts.
From 1996 to 2004 Bryant played with the most dominant player of the late 1990's and early 2000's; Shaquille O'Neal.
In his first three championships Bryant was the second option, he was what Scottie Pippen was to the Bulls. O'Neal was the finals MVP in all three of "Bryant's" first three championships.
Jordan has six NBA finals MVP's, Bryant has two. Even without O'Neal, Bryant has had two good supporting casts in 2009 and 2010.
People forget that the only reason Pippen is a probable hall of famer is because he has six rings. Pippen never had a season where he averaged more than 22 points per game (ppg), and only had four seasons that he averaged 20 ppg. The two highest scoring seasons of his career were the two years that Jordan was gone (93-94 and 94-95); and the only reason he averaged 22 ppg and 21.4 ppg was because he realized he had to do more for the team in Jordan's absence. If Bryant retired today, there is no doubt Pau Gasol's average points would increase next season, because he would be forced to play a bigger role in the Lakers offense.
Obviously Pippen's statistics tailed off towards the end of his career (when he wasn't playing along side Jordan). But to put it in perspective, Pippen averaged 16.1 ppg in his career, 17.9 ppg in his first ten seasons, and 17.9 ppg in the eleven seasons that it took Pippen to win six championships; Gasol has averaged 18.8 ppg through his first ten seasons in the NBA.
Through his first eleven seasons (his six championships) Pippen averaged 18.0 ppg in the playoffs. Gasol has a 18.5 ppg playoff career average.
Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman played a major role in the Bulls three consecutive championships between 1995 and 1998, but he was an offensive liability. While Rodman could win the Bulls games on the defensive side of the ball, it was well known he was not going to contribute 20 points offensively (career average of 13.1 rebounds per game and 7.3 ppg).
Bryant's Lakers teams have always had rebounders who can also score; O'Neal, Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Not to mention the Lakers defensive stoppers Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest have won games on both ends of the floor in the past two seasons. Artest came up big for the Lakers in game seven when Bryant was busy shooting 25% from the field. The fact is that every championship team needs role players.
The list of role players goes on and on. While Jordan had Pippen, Rodman, Horace Grant, John Paxson, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr; Bryant had O'Neal, Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Artest and Ariza. While both had great supporting casts, Jordan never lost.
Jordan had six finals appearances, and six championships. Bryant has seven finals appearances and five championships. Once he got to the finals, Jordan didn't lose. After winning his first championship, Jordan lost one playoff series, and that was the season he played seventeen games and made his first comeback (1994-95).
Bryant lost in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons when the Lakers had four future hall of famers (O'Neal, Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton). He lost in 2008 with virtually the same roster that won the 2009 Championship.
Jordan also never needed a game seven to win one of his Championships, and if he did, there is no way he is shooting 6-24 (25%) from the field and less than 75% from the free throw line like Bryant recently did.
Bryant should consider giving his 2010 Finals MVP trophy to Joe Crawford, Scott Foster, and Danny Crawford (the Game seven referees) because they are the three people who took over game seven.
Sixteen of the Lakers thirty fourth quarter points came from the free throw line, and many of them on debatable calls. The Lakers attempted more free throws in the fourth quarter than the Celtics attempted in the entire game. The reason that the NBA has had low ratings over the last decade is because the games are so predictable.
I don't mean to take anything away from Bryant; he is a very committed and determined athlete and individual. His work ethic can definitely be compared to Jordan but he is just not on the same level. It is difficult to be compared to the greatest of all time, and Bryant shouldn't have to be.
The fact is Jordan is better, it is not even an argument.