It's time we acknowledge the obvious.
Kobe Bryant has surpassed Michael Jordan.
For years we have been heralding the next great baller with whispers of "maybe he is the next Jordan." Players have been burdened with that tag long enough.
It's time to ask who will be the next Bryant.
Jordan brought life and energy to an otherwise borderline moribund franchise. Twice.
Bryant brought life and energy to a struggling NBA elite franchise in a top market. Twice.
Jordan was the main, if not the only, reason you watched a Bulls game in 80s and 90s.
Bryant is the main, if not the only reason, you watch the Lakers today.
Jordan was bigger than the game.
Bryant is bigger than the game.
Both players play with a competitive nature that is a level higher than their competition. Both make the greatest basketball players in the world trying to defend them look like JV players. Both take the last shot. Both are amazing.
Bryant is just a little better.
You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask of that ol' lone Ranger, and you sure as hell don't mess around with MJ's legacy.
Blasphemy, I know.
On the heels of LeBron's well-intended but off-the-wall tribute to MJ, my proclamation may seem all the more odd.
However in a world that ranks, rates, and rewards just about everything, it's time we took a closer look at these two All-World players and pick a "winner."
Let's start by getting as close to an apple-to-apple comparison as we can.
Given that Bryant first dribbled a Spalding in the NBA at 17 years of age, whereas Jordan graced North Carolina with his presence for three years, it's hard to do that.
However, because Bryant really didn't come into his own as a player until about the middle of his second year, age and playing time becomes the most fair way to compare the two.
Last year marked Bryant's 30th year on earth and 12th in the NBA. 1992-1993 marked Jordan's 30th year on earth and his ninth in the NBA. Deducting his first one-and-a-half years of NBA time from Bryant, that leaves us comparing 10.5 NBA years for Bryant to nine for Jordan. That's about as fair as we can make it. Lets look at the numbers using that line of demarcation.
31.5 pts, 5.6 assists, 5.7 rebounds while shooting 84 percent from the line.
28.7 pts, 5.4 assists, 6.1 rebounds while shooting 84 percent from the line.
The numbers are fairly identical but you have to give a slight edge to Jordan. So, lets dig deeper and look at accumulated awards through both stars 30th birthday.
2 Gold medals
5 Time all Defensive Team
1 NBA Defensive player of the year
3 time MVP
8 All Star games
3 time Finals MVP
1 Gold medal
7 Time all Defensive Team
0 NBA Defensive player of the year awards
1 time MVP
11 All Star games
1 time Finals MVP
Again, slight edge to Jordan. So why am I proclaiming Bryant as the "Air Apparent?" Simple scoreboard.
Jordan - through his 30th birthday
3 NBA Championships
Bryant - through his 30th birthday
4 NBA Championships
Edge to Bryant.
Bryant, like Jordan, shows a respect for the game. He has grown to understand how to make his teammates better. He switches from a facilitator role to dominating the game as needed. He plays defensive as aggressively as anyone—when its needed. He has a flair for the dramatic.
If life on earth came down to a basketball game between humans and aliens and we had to pick one person in the history of our planet to take the final shot, it would be Bryant. For those of you old enough to remember, that was the premise of Michael Jordan's movie "Space Jam."
In that movie Jordan took advantage of his "toon-ness" to stretch his arm from half court to the hoop for a game winning dunk. The best basketball player in the world at the time saved the world from destruction with an amazing shot.
Jordan set the bar unbelievably high.
We like to see our heroes and their records last. We love revering Dimaggio's streak, Wilt's 100 and the greatness that was Gretzky. Fifty six games in a row with a hit seems safe as does Wilt's 100. Hockey may never see another Gretzky. In basketball, however, we have seen the new "next."
In basketball, the bar has been raised just a nudge higher.
With the juggernaut that is the Los Angeles Lakers poised to compete for at least three more titles, its likely the bar will go even higher.
The argument isn't Kobe vs. LeBron and the stock statement is no longer "who will replace Jordan." The answer to both is Bryant.
The greatest player the game has ever seen. Period.