MJ Is the Greatest, but Kobe Bryant Will Be Most Discussed in the End

Matthew FrankContributor IAugust 3, 2010

Kobe Bryant has won his fifth NBA Championship; now only one behind “His Airness .”  With that being said, the continuous argument has resurrected itself as to which one of these two superior athletes is simply “greater.”  

To cut to the chase, I’m going to have to answer with Jordan.  In response to all you Celtic fan’s jumping up and down, ripping paper, and screaming “What about Russell?!,” all I have to say is that although Russ did have rings and statistics to back his case, he played in a less competitive league than Jordan and one with only eight teams for the majority of his career.  But this is not about Russell’s argument; it is about the Black Mamba’s.  

Just by looking at the playoff numbers, which is what most people (meaning me) base their judgment on, Jordan performed to his highest ability when it counted; recording 33.4 PPG , 6.4 RPG , 5.7 APG in 179 playoff games and 34-6-6 in 35 Finals games.  Kobe has only averaged 25.5 - 5.2 - 4.8 in his 198 playoff games, with his best quality stat line being 29.4 - 7.3 - 6.1 in the ’01 Playoffs when he wasn’t the “main guy” on his team (Shaq ).  Enter in Michael’s five MVP’s and ten scoring titles to Bryant’s one and two, and it is safe to say that Jordan edges Bryant in some significant categories.

Michael Jordan will always be the greatest to ever play, and there really is no debate about that title being given.  In Kobe Bryant’s case there will always be debate; he will always be the most discussed player in the NBA.  Whether it is the way he won his first three titles as a sidekick to Shaq , his selfish play up until the 2008 season, or his infamous radio tour after the 2006-07 season when he demanded a trade and berated young Center Andrew Bynum. 

If you look back at their time lines, the only thing that was controversial or discussed in Michael’s career was his “live or die” mentality to win at all costs.  In his first seven years, he played the role of selfish scorer and alienated teammates.  Why? Because he had no other choice; his teams were not at any height to help him get a championship.  When his teams finally formed to that caliber with Pippen and company, he learned how to distribute and be a team player.  All of Michael’s dilemmas have come from off the court: his excessive gambling and family troubles.  But even then, the public quickly forgot or ignored the flaws because he is the “greatest.”  

Kobe’s career is a little bit more complicated.  From the start of his rookie season many questioned his maturity as a player.  He had always been labeled as a relentless scorer, which in turn came to be known as a selfish scorer.  This has been his staple even to this day; not knowing when to stop or start shooting.  As far as being a team player, it is believed that he forced out Shaq and Phil Jackson, while berating any inferior teammates who couldn’t match his ability or competitiveness.  Kobe did finally become the team player Jordan did, but it took the firing and rehiring of Jackson, the evacuation of O’Neil, the acquisition of Pau Gasol, and numerous trade threats to get there.

Kobe’s name comes with a lot of disputing and reflection.  If you were to ask an ordinary sports fan from anywhere in the country about what they thought of Michael Jordan as a player, they would say he is the greatest player and competitor to ever put on a basketball jersey.  There would be nothing else to add, or facts to gather in order to back up their answer.  Now if you asked that same person what they thought about Kobe Bryant as a player, I guarantee – unless he/she is from Los Angeles – that they would not have the same reaction.  The question would ultimately open a box of outbursts like “he is a ball hog,” a “complainer,” or my favorite “a Jordan imitator.”

Why is this the case?  Because Kobe Bryant has not established a name to symbolize himself in the game of basketball.  Bill Russell is the “ultimate leader,” Magic is “Showtime,” and Michael is the “greatest.”  For all of Bryant’s accomplishments and records, we as observers still do not know where to place him in the history books.  His career has swayed so many different ways that his label differs with every writer and fan.

The frustrating part is that Kobe is not done with his NBA tenor, leaving room for improvement or failure.  While we watch his remaining years, we can only dissect and discuss what we believe Kobe Bryant is to basketball; and even when he finally retires we will still discuss his rightful place among the greats.

Michael Jordan has established himself as simply “the greatest.”  As for Kobe Bryant, he will always be the “(enter adjective here).”