10 Reasons Phil Jackson is Right: Kobe Bryant is Not Michael Jordan, Nobody Is
For all those hardcore NBA fans who honestly believe that Michael Jordan created the game of basketball, let me stop you right there. It only seemed that way, especially when looking in the rear-view mirror of a career that was mostly storybook and unequaled in the annals of the sport.
There never was and never will be another Michael Jordan. His individual statistics during his 15-year career (all but two with the Chicago Bulls) justify the recent comments made by Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson when he told the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers to “stop comparing anyone to Michael Jordan. It’s just not fair. He was remarkable.”
Jackson, of course, should know. He’s coached two of the greatest players the game has ever seen in Jordan and Kobe Bryant. While acknowledging Bryant as an exceptionally gifted player in his own right, Jackson is quick to point out that the Lakers’ superstar is not MJ: “It's one thing to hope to be like him (Jordan), it's another thing to be like him."
The comparisons are inevitable, simply because both played the same position, they are the same height, they played for the same coach and they won almost the same number of NBA championships (Jordan has six, Bryant five). Bryant has emulated Jordan in many aspects of his game and has said as much.
Is Michael Jordan a better all-around player than Kobe Bryant? If statistics mean something, then the simple answer is yes. But if heart and will to win count for anything, then Bryant surely would give Jordan a run for his money.
Phil Jackson is right: Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
10. Rebounding Edge Goes to Michael Jordan
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Jordan and Bryant were both consistent on the boards. But overall MJ averaged almost one rebound more per game over the length of his career, collecting 6.3 per game.
Jordan collected eight rebounds per game during the 1988-89 season when he also scored 32.5 points per contest.
Bryant, on the other hand, has averaged 5.3 for his career. The highest average for him in a single season is 6.9.
9. King of Facilitating
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This category is pretty close, but Jordan still trumps Bryant.
During his twice-interrupted career, Jordan averaged 5.3 assists per game. His best year was that 1988-89 season in which he averaged eight assists to go along with his eight boards.
Kobe has averaged 4.7 assists during his career with the Lakers and he is averaging that same amount this year. He is consistently in the 4.5-5.0 range and he has been as high as six per game in 2004-05.
As he's gotten older, Bryant has become more of a facilitator, and though it doesn't always show up in the box score, he does spread the ball around much more than in his earlier years.
8. Steals: Michael Jordan Set the Bar High
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When it comes to defense and steals, Michael Jordan again gets the best of his younger counterpart. Jackson could count on Jordan for a couple of steals per night.
Over the course of 15 seasons, Jordan averaged 2.35 steals while Kobe averages 1.5 and Kobe was only over two per game for an entire season one time.
Jordan, conversely, had 10 seasons in which he averaged at least two steals per game. In 1987-88, one of MJ's top statistical years, he averaged 3.16 assists to go along with a 32.5 scoring average and 54-percent shooting.
This category clearly favors Jordan.
7. Scoring Average: Score Another "Win" for Mike
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He was as consistently prolific a scorer as anyone who ever played the game. Michael Jordan never met a court he didn't like or a shot he couldn't convert.
Jordan's scoring acumen was uncanny and, again, there is really no comparison between the equally athletic Kobe Bryant. Some will argue that Jordan took on more of the scoring responsibilities with the Bulls, that Kobe could rely on Shaquille O'Neal early in his career and Pau Gasol later on. Those are weak arguments.
The fact remains that Jordan put up big numbers year after year and he was usually at or above 50-percent shooting for the season. He probably took fewer deep jump shots than Bryant, which may help explain why Kobe's field-goal percentages have been lower.
Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game over his career—the highest in NBA history—and that would have been higher had it not been for the final two seasons he spent hanging on with Washington from 2001-03.
At Chicago, Jordan had seven straight seasons and eight of nine in which he averaged 30 or more points per game. That, as Jackson likes to say, made him "remarkable."
Bryant is averaging just over 25 points per game for his career and he has had three seasons over 30. That's sort of like Mike but not really.
6. Field Goal Percentage: Jordan Rules
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For his career, Jordan converted just a tad below 50 percent of his field-goal attempts. He took 24,537 shots and made an incredible 12,192 of them.
To date, Kobe has attempted 21,104 shots and converted on 9,594 or 46 percent. Jordan played 15 seasons; Bryant is about a dozen games short of finishing his 15th.
What makes these percentages and numbers so extraordinary for Jordan is that he took about 3,500 more shots than Bryant during the same period of time and, yet, shot a higher percentage.
5. Defense: Both Are Great but Jordan Was Extraordinary
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MJ was Defensive Player of the Year in 1988-89. He also was a nine-time All-Defensive Team selection in the NBA.
Jordan blocked shots, stole the ball (10 seasons of two or more per game) and often guarded the big scorer on the opposition.
This is not meant to take anything away from Bryant, who prides himself on playing strong defense. He does get after the ball and he averages 1.5 steals per game.
Bryant has been an All-Defensive Team selection eight times and he is as tough a defender on the ball as any shooting guard or small forward in the league.
4. Free-Throw Percentage: This One Is a Dead Heat
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Kobe Bryant is "money" at the free-throw line. So, too, was Michael Jordan.
Bryant for his career is accurate 84 percent of the time from the charity stripe. Jordan finished his career a smidgen under 84 percent.
Jordan went to the line 8,772 times during his illustrious career, while Bryant stands at 8,277 attempts to date. Does that mean Jordan was better at drawing fouls? Perhaps slightly, but not by much.
Both are very effective at getting to the line.
3. Securing Their First Championship Rings
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Here's where things start to favor Bryant over Jordan...somewhat. Kobe secured his first championship in just his fourth season with the Lakers—1999-2000. It took Jordan seven campaigns before he finally won the first of his six rings with Chicago.
There are so many factors that go into winning an NBA championship. But we're debating the talents of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and how their individual seasons translated onto the teams they played for.
When Jordan finally hit his stride and all the pieces came together, the Bulls went on a terrific run that landed them six world titles in eight years. Bryant, on the other hand, has five rings but took a decade to acquire them.
The edge goes back to Jordan.
2. Return of the Jordan: He Unretires from Baseball to Win Three More Rings
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Sports fans in Chicago must have been shaking their collective heads over this one. Michael Jordan leads them to three world titles and then decides he wants to play baseball instead of basketball.
This was like Pavarotti, at the height of his operatic powers, deciding to retire and try his luck at stand-up comedy or NASCAR. It just makes you scratch your head and wonder.
This was like Picasso throwing his paint brushes into the river and deciding to become a chef. You don't win three championships, retire in the middle of one of the best careers in any sport and then come back to it two years later. And win.
Unless you are Michael Jordan.
He retired abruptly in 1993 and signed with the Chicago White Sox as a minor league player.
Jordan played for the Birmingham Barons, where he compiled a not-so-robust .202 average with three home runs, 51 runs batted in, 30 stolen bases and 11 errors. He also played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 1994 Arizona Fall League and again hit .202. Not exactly the stuff of legend.
Jordan came back to the Bulls towards the end of the 1994-95 regular season and led Chicago to three-straight world championships again.
Once again, it's impossible to compare Bryant with Jordan on this one.
1. Kobe Bryant Is Still Writing His Story: Jordan's Work Is Done
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To his credit, Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player of the last decade. Unlike Michael Jordan, he has had to play under the intense spotlight of the Los Angeles Lakers in a city that seems to relish building up and knocking down its sports and entertainment celebrities with a regularity that borders on the ridiculous.
L.A. is a tough place to try and become a "legend," but much to his credit, Bryant has done just that. He's been up and he's been way down—both on and off the court. And today, as the regular season winds down, Bryant and Phil Jackson are poised to make a run for yet another three-peat.
Jackson was correct when he said that Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan, that there is no comparison. Bryant might be the first to agree—he's content to be his own man, to follow in the footsteps of the game's icons and to carve out his own place in the history books.
Like Jordan, Kobe Bryant is a tireless worker and a perfectionist who demands as much perfection from his teammates as they are able to muster. And, like MJ, Bryant is all about winning.
The comparisons between the two players are inevitable. The fans want to decide who is better. That debate will rage on for years.
But Phil Jackson is correct when he says that Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan. He is also correct when he says that Bryant is a remarkable person. It's not about liking him. It's about admiring his courage.
"And there's only one individual I know that's like that, and that's Michael Jordan."