If this season has taught us anything, Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan.
The large discrepancy in their career stats has always been there but in the past Bryant fans, myself included, have tried arguing that the difference in their respective eras made up the difference.
We tried arguing that there were no zone defenses in Jordan’s day and that the league overall, though more physical and hard-nosed, was less athletic.
These are the excuses we tried using, but one thing we could never justify were the larger failures Bryant endured over the course of his career that Jordan would have never allowed, namely:
- the 2004 Finals which saw Bryant shoot under 40% from the field
- Game 4 of the 2008 Finals which saw Bryant’s Lakers squander a 24 point lead
- Game 6 of the 2008 Finals when the Celtics wrecked the Lakers in a 39 point blowout, the largest ever margin of a defeat in a deciding game of the Finals.
- Game 7 of the 2010 Finals when Bryant made only 6 of 24 attempted field goals. (This is not as talked about as the other failures due to the Lakers’ series victory, but would have been a permanent stain on Bryant’s career otherwise.)
Now we can add the 2011 playoffs to the list.
During the regular season Bryant averaged the fewest minutes since his sophomore season and still utterly tanked in the playoffs, averaging under 23 points per game and utterly disappearing in Games 3 and 4.
Bryant is no Jordan.
Still, he may be closer than anyone in the game today. Let’s talk about why.
The NBA has changed drastically in the last 10 years. In the early 2000’s it seemed like the majority of the game’s best players were guards.
Now they are almost exclusively in the frontcourt.
While Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are the exceptions, the other players that would universal consideration for being among the game’s top ten players are names like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and (maybe) guys like Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin.
With players like Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter having faded, there aren’t too many electrifying two guards anymore.
In fact, over the course of history few shooting guards besides Jordan could ever be argued as top-ten all timers.
The fact that Kobe Bryant is among them already gives him something in common with Jordan.
Their style of play only cements the similarity.
The list of shooting guards capable of taking over game with their shooting and are capable of posting up is pretty darn short.
Both Jordan and Bryant are 6’6”, a fairly big size for a shooting guard, and in their primes neither hesitated to use their size to their advantage when given the opportunity.
While Bryant is far more reliant on fade away jumpers then Jordan ever was, they both used the jab step excellently and were able to psyche out opponents before dribbling the ball once.
Sure, we all love MJ now, but during his playing days he wasn’t quite as beloved by those he terrorized -- sometimes that included even his teammates.
Jordan demanded nothing less than maximum effort from everyone he played with, and once even punched Steve Kerr in the face during practice.
For the majority of his career Bryant has proven himself to be in the same mold.
Bryant’s approach was of course less physical (how many men over the course of humanity would punch Shaq in the face?). But ultimately, the biggest problems Bryant had with Shaq was the lack of effort that he placed on keeping himself in shape.
He was not shy about calling Shaq out in the media about his work ethic, particularly during the frequent power struggles between the two.
Simply put, Jordan and Bryant were not cuddly teammates.
While LeBron James’ play measures up to Bryant’s in his best years, if not Jordan’s, the biggest difference between James and those two has been his handling of teammates.
While he has shown a lot less goofiness in Miami as opposed to his days in Cleveland, he still has a ways to go to show that he is capable of getting the most out of his teammates or at least irritating the hell out of them until he does.
Few great scorers are also known as great defenders, particularly at the shooting guard position.
Most of the players who are have been known terrors on both ends of the floor are guys like Dwight Howard, Shaq, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon among others.
Along with Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett, Jordan and Bryant share their record 9 All Defensive First Team selections.
Also, aside from David Robinson and LeBron James, Jordan and Bryant are the only players of the last 30 years to have earned both a scoring championship and a First Defensive Team selection over the course of their career.
While Jordan often took advantage of the luxury of deferring the hardest defensive assignment to Scottie Pippen, and Bryant later in his career gained Ron Artest, neither Jordan nor Bryant hesitated to take over the top assignment when their sidekicks were slacking.
Of course, Jordan is again separated from Bryant due to the Defensive Player of the Year award that he earned in ‘88.
Jordan stands alone as the only player to ever earn a scoring title and a Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season.
In their primes both players received universal respect not only from the media and fans, but from the players around them.
After Michael Jordan’s ridiculous 63 point explosion against the defensively menacing Celtics, in the playoffs no less, Larry Bird summed up the outbreak by claimng that God was “disguised as Michael Jordan”.
2-time MVP LeBron James has been quoted on numerous occasions as calling Kobe Bryant the best player in the league.Teammate Ron Artest has called Bryant “the greatest of all time”.
Many have accused the media of and the NBA of overhyping Bryant to give the NBA their next Jordan.
While it is clear that Jordan is without equal and that Bryant is no exception, those claims are mistaken.
As great as James has proven himself to be, few players have ever publicly called him the best in the league.
During Jordan’s time, no one dared to call anyone else the best.
Ultimately the comparisons between the Jordan and Bryant are acceptable because Bryant has proven himself to be the closest thing we have.
Respecting one should not be seen as a slight towards the other.
Between Jordan and Bryant, the two share 13 Finals appearances, 11 NBA titles, and 8 Finals MVPs.
Aside from the Finals MVPs, of which Jordan owns 6, those stats are split pretty evenly.
Greats like Allen Iverson, George Gervin, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter have one or fewer Finals appearances and no rings.
Though Jerry West made multiple Finals appearances alongside Wilt Chamberlain, his Lakers only managed to squeeze a single championship out of their multiple opportunities.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were supposed to start terrorizing the NBA from their first jumpball together until the season’s end, but if they make a habit of their recent choke jobs in the fourth quarter, good luck hoping they’ll make it to 6 appearances, let alone 6 rings.
In the end both Jordan and Bryant achieved great success that will be extremely difficult for anyone to match.
Jordan’s Washington stint notwithstanding, it really looks good on a stat sheet when you can go down the list of seasons and see the same city abbreviation all the way down.
I am normally the last person to criticize James or anyone else for leaving their original team to find better options, but there is something to be said for sticking with a singular team throughout the duration of your career.
It sets you in another class.
Magic Johnson was a Laker. Larry Bird was a Celtic. Tim Duncan is a Spur.
Shaq was a Magic Laker who caused a half dozen bitter feuds because he couldn’t take the Heat when the Sun set on his career, despite the fact it was due mostly to his own Cavalier approach he took to his fitness. And he retired with the Celtics.
The point is that your legacy gets a boost when you spend all of your ups and downs in one place.
Both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have fiercely loyal, and at times delusional, followers who both legends earned due mostly to their loyalty to their respective teams.
While Bryant may never measure up to Jordan in most categories, this is one area where he can truly claim to be Jordan’s equal.