Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan? Settling the Debate

John ReimoldContributor IApril 11, 2011

The Lakers are the favorites to win the NBA championship this season, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. If Vegas is right and Los Angeles emerges as the NBA`s top dog this season, it would give Kobe Bryant his sixth championship ring.

Uh-oh. That ties him with you know who. Michael Jordan is universally recognized as the greatest basketball player of all-time, perhaps the greatest athlete in any sport. If Kobe ties Michael in championships, the comparisons between the two would increase to the umpteenth degree.

This comparison is easier than most. Both of these players are similar in size, both play the same position and had strikingly similar games. Their careers actually overlapped for four seasons, 1996 to 1998 and 2001 to 2003, meaning that they both played in similar eras.

This comparison is a whole lot easier than comparing Shaquille O'Neal to Wilt Chamberlain, for example, as their careers were 20 years apart. I am going to break Kobe vs. Michael down both objectively and subjectively for you.

The best way to objectively break something down is through data. This one is fairly easy, as Michael's career averages of 30.1 points on 50 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 2.7 turnovers per game trump Bryant in every category.

Bryant's career averages are 25.3 points on 45.4 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.9 turnovers.

Michael also has the edge in regular season MVP awards (five to one), scoring titles (10 to two), and has a Defensive Player of the Year award that Kobe lacks. Numbers-wise during the regular season, clearly Michael holds a significant edge. However, there is far more to determining the better player than regular season numbers.

Greatness is achieved through the postseason. This is one category where on the surface it appears that Kobe can stand up to Michael. Kobe has five titles (two Finals MVPs) and is still going strong. His Airness has six (winning the Finals MVP every time).  Michael's playoff numbers are also significantly higher than Kobe's, but that is not where the biggest difference between the two lies, at least in my opinion.

This is where I get subjective on you. Kobe Bryant has had some spectacular playoff performances. Game 4 of the 2000 Finals comes to mind, in Indiana. Shaq fouled out and the game went to overtime. Kobe put the Lakers on his back, dominated the extra session, and gave the Lakers an insurmountable 3-1 lead over the Pacers in the series.

He ran roughshod over a great Spurs team in 2001, leading Los Angeles to a sweep. The Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs that year (best playoff record ever). In Game 7 of the 2010 championship series vs. the Celtics, Kobe couldn't throw it in the ocean, shooting 6-of-24, but he willed himself to 15 rebounds and the Lakers won the game. Great moments indeed, but now its time to bow our heads and reflect on what Michael Jordan did.

From the time Michael Jordan won his first title in 1991 (the Bulls stormed through the playoffs with a 15-2 record) until he retired for the second time in 1998, he was unbeatable. They won the championship every year in which MJ played the entire season.

The Rockets took the title for the two seasons in which Michael missed most of, from 1993 to 1995 (I think the magnificent Hakeem Olajuwon and those Houston teams would have given the Bulls all they could handle, but that is a debate for another day).  The Bulls were pushed to seven games only twice during that stretch, although there were many times they had serious challengers and Michael came to the rescue.

Obviously, you can see where I am going with this, as I think Jordan was far superior to Bryant. Dropping 35 in the first half of Game 1 vs. Clyde Drexler and the Blazers to set the tone for the 1992 NBA Finals was incredible. Averaging 41 ppg in the Finals vs. the Suns in 1993 was one of the greatest series anyone has ever had.

People forget that up until John Paxon hit the game-winning three-pointer in Game 6, Michael scored every single Bulls point in the fourth quarter. I'm sure you already know about the 72-10 record and Bulls title in 1996.

My favorite Michael moment was the “flu game” in 1997. Quick rundown: NBA Finals, Bulls vs. Jazz, tied 2-2. Jordan shows up to Game 5 in Utah as sick as a dog. Bulls fall behind by 16 points early and they look done. MJ goes off for 38 and hits a dagger three at the end of the game despite being near death (a stretch, I know). 

Perhaps most memorable was “The Shot” in 1998 in a rematch with Utah. A frightening Game 7 in Utah looked inevitable after a John Stockton trey with 41.9 seconds to go gave the Jazz a three-point edge in Game 6. MJ quickly scores, picks Karl Malone's pocket, then drains the game-winner, Bulls win by one. Jordan's last game as a Bull, 35 years old and he drops 45 points, no big deal. 

As a kid rooting against Chicago, I used to convince myself that the Bulls were going to lose. So many times it felt like they were on the ropes, but you just knew Michael wasn't going to let his team fail. The memories and captivating performances are too many to name.

Do you think Michael would have let his team lose a series clincher by 39 points like Kobe did in Boston in the 2008 Finals? Would Michael have been a no-show like Bryant was vs. the Pistons in 2004? Rhetorical questions, obviously. 

If the Lakers win the championship this season, you will undoubtedly hear some blowhard try to get some attention by saying Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. After reading this article, I hope you put that person in their place, and speak about Michael Jordan's on-court achievements with the reverence they deserve.