With all eyes now turning to basketball, it's time to revisit the eternal question.
Who is a better basketball player, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant?
Here are five reasons the answer is Michael Jordan.
Jordan played against tougher competition.
When Michael Jordan first came into the NBA in 1984, there were 23 NBA teams.
The NBA added two teams in 1988 (Hornets and Heat) and two more teams in 1989 (Magic and Timberwolves) to bring the league to 27 teams right before Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive championships (1991 to 1993).
Jordan won his first three championships in a league with 27 teams, and his second three in a league with 29.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three championships between 2000 and 2002, and his Lakers have won the last two titles.
The NBA expanded again in 1995, so when Bryant won his first title, he was also playing in a league with 29 teams. Bryant's last two titles came in a league with 30 teams.
Kobe Bryant is playing in an NBA that has three more teams than when Michael Jordan won his first title. Because there are more teams, the talent required to make each team is lower.
Each NBA team carries 15 players. When Jordan played, there were about 405 players. Today there are about 450. If you were the 435th best player in 1995, you were not playing professionally. Today you would be.
Because Jordan was playing against much stronger competition, he has an advantage.
In the 2004 NBA Finals, the Lakers fielded a team which included Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. They lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games.
In the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
In the 2010 NBA Finals, the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7. In that game, Bryant went 6 for 24 from the field. He was named the NBA Finals MVP, but given his performance in Game 7, he didn't deserve it.
Compare this to Michael Jordan, who went to six NBA Finals and won them all. Let's look at the last three:
1996 NBA Playoffs: The Bulls win the title and lose three total games in the playoffs.
1997 NBA Playoffs: The Bulls beat the Jazz in six games. Game 5 is the "Flu" game where Jordan scored 38 points, despite being feverish and dehydrated.
1998 NBA Playoffs: The Bulls beat the Jazz in six games again. Jordan scores 45 in Game 6, and wins the title with his final shot over Byron Russell.
So in their most recent NBA Finals games, Michael Jordan scored 45 points, and Kobe Bryant scored 23.
Michael Jordan also never lost a series in the NBA Finals.
That's a picture of Bill Wennington, who has three NBA Championship rings with the Chicago Bulls.
Rusty LaRue has more NBA titles than John Stockton. Who is Rusty LaRue? My point exactly.
Here are a couple of players who won three titles with Michael Jordan: Will Perdue, Scott Williams, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Dickey Simpkins and Bill Wennington.
Jordan had a will to win that forced his teammates to become better players. The best measure of this is how they did after he left. Scottie Pippen, for example.
Pippen won six rings with Jordan. Pippen then went to Houston where he teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. They lost their first playoff series.
Kobe Bryant won his first three titles with Shaquille O'Neal, a three-time NBA Finals MVP. Kobe's next two titles were won with players such as Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher.
Bryant has better teammates, which makes Jordan the better player because he won with players who weren't the caliber of the Lakers.
The Chicago Bulls won six championships. Between 1991-1993 and 1996-1998, Jordan missed two regular season games. Total. He also averaged about 37 minutes per game over that period.
So not only did he play every game, but he played almost the entire game.
Kobe Bryant played all 82 games in the 2009 season and 73 games in 2010. The minutes per game are about the same as Jordan's.
Kobe Bryant missed more games last season than Jordan missed in six seasons.
The NBA changed the "Illegal Defense" rule for the 2001-2002 season to allow teams to play zone defense. The idea behind the rule change was to make it flow faster, and get rid of a confusing rule inconsistently called.
One of the effects was to reduce the amount of contact. Also, the zone defense is less strenuous on players.
Michael Jordan won six championships playing man-to-man defense, and was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 and nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member.
Kobe Bryant is a good defender, but it is less of an achievement because the rules have changed. He is an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team and two-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team member.
Jordan played better defense against better players.
It is always challenging to compare players from different eras, but there are enough statistics here to draw a clear conclusion.
First, Michael Jordan played in a more competitive league. There were fewer teams, and the quality of the players was higher.
Second, Michael Jordan won every NBA Finals series he went to.
Third, Michael Jordan made this teammates better.
Fourth, Michael Jordan played significant minutes in every game.
And finally, Michael Jordan was a better defender.
Michael Jordan is a better player than Kobe Bryant.