Why Kobe/Jordan Debate Is Closer Than It Seems

Marcel SmithSenior Analyst IDecember 20, 2009

1 Feb 1998:  Guard Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (left) and guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.  The Lakers won the game, 112-87. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Al
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As Kobe Bryant continues to add to his already-brilliant legacy, the debate between him and Michael Jordan rages on.

The majority of the NBA fans believe that the comparisons are foolish and that Jordan is still much better than Kobe.

However, I am going to show why Kobe is closer to Jordan than is perceived.

The following are major reasons against Kobe when people compare him to Jordan and why they are incorrect. 

1. Jordan Simply Has Much Better Stats Than Kobe in Every Area  

Jordan's career stats are that he averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 32.7 percent from the three-point line, and 83.5 percent from the free throw line.

On the other hand, Kobe has averaged 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 34 percent from the three-point line, and 84 percent from the free throw line. 

At first look, it seems that Jordan dominates Kobe, but Kobe's career averages are severely hurt by his first few seasons when he did not play much, due to him coming out of high school.

Now when you look at Kobe's career stats without his first three seasons (Jordan played three years of college), his numbers are 28.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game, while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from the three-point line, and 84.4 percent from the free throw line. 

Kobe is just on par with Jordan on all stats except for points, steals, and field goal percentage.

Now, the reason why Kobe averages two less points than Jordan is because Jordan averaged 1.5 more field goal attempts per game than Kobe without his first three seasons.

Jordan was simply slightly better than Kobe at steals, which really is not that important of a stat as Allen Iverson, a below average defender at best, led the league in steals three times. 

2. Jordan Shot a Much Higher Percentage from the Field Than Kobe  

This is one of the worst arguments in favor of Jordan compared to Kobe because Kobe shot many more three-point shots than Jordan did, thus resulting in a lower field goal percentage.

Instead of looking at field goal percentage to compare the two, I like to look at a stat that is never used, but is the best indicator in field goal—three-point and free throw efficiency and that is points per field goal attempt. 

Jordan averaged 1.316 points per field goal attempt in his career, while Kobe has averaged 1.312 points per field goal attempt—a difference so small in should not ever be argued against Kobe.

On average, when Jordan shot 20 times, he scored 26.3 points, while Kobe averages 26.2 points per every 20-shot attempts. I think this pretty much eliminates the field goal percentage argument in favor of Jordan, as they are basically even. 

3. Jordan Is a Better Teammate/Person Than Kobe Is 

Jordan was a terrible teammate compared to Kobe, as he punched teammates Steve Kerr and Will Perdue during practice and ran coach Doug Collins because he wanted a more team-oriented system.

The most obvious way to show how bad of a teammate Jordan was is to look at how he treated Kwame Brown when Jordan was on the Wizards

At the time, Jordan was still a good player, but past his prime and in a situation where he could lead a young and rebuilding Wizards team with a talented, first overall pick in Brown.

However, instead of supporting and trying to lift up Brown's spirits after some struggles that were bound to occur as he was coming out of high school, Jordan called Brown "a flaming faggot" and he used several other derogatory words towards Brown repeatedly, which obviously destroyed Brown's confidence, as he most likely idolized Jordan.  

This shows that even after his prime, Jordan only cared about himself, and his attitude towards Kwame is a major reason why Kwame became a bust, as he has never been confident in his game, which resulted in him not being able to handle all of Jordan's insults and the pressure of a franchise on his shoulders. 

On top of that, Jordan even flew in his old high school teammate—who his high school coach chose over Jordan for the varsity basketball team—to his Hall of Fame speech just to make fun of him, and he even insulted Dean Smith for leaving him off the Sports Illustrated cover because he was a freshman.

Jordan's speech was bitter, petty, and pathetic. Jordan also had several affairs while married and numerous gambling problems. 

Kobe has been a bit of an ass himself, but, besides him cheating on his wife and then having his image destroyed because of false rape charges, he has been pretty clean himself.

Sure, he helped run off coach Phil Jackson, but Jackson was also willing to return to coach him just one year later. 

Kobe also received most of the blame for Shaq leaving the Lakers and ending the dynasty, but, as time goes on, it seems like Shaq had as much blame as anyone.

He has now left all four teams he played for on bad terms and wanted too much money for Jerry Buss to be willing to pay—which was the real reason why Shaq was traded, not because Kobe demanded him to, as he himself was debating whether to sign with the Lakers when the Shaq trade went through. 

4. Jordan Made His Teammates Better Than Kobe Does 

Jordan's teammates have been extremely undervalued, as is his impact on the Bulls.

First, let's look at how other teams fared when their best players missed an entire season.

When Bill Russell retired in 1969, the Celtics went from 48-34 (championship) to a 34-48 record and missing the playoffs.

Now, when Wilt retired in 1973, the Lakers went from 60-22 to 47-35 and a first-round exit.

Then, when Larry Bird missed 76 games in the 1988-1989 season, the Celtics went from 57-25 to 42-40 and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.

When Oscar retired from the Bucks in 1974, the team went from 59 wins (Finals appearance) to 38 wins and missing the playoffs.

Finally, when Magic retired from the Lakers, the team went from 58 to 43 wins and losing in the first round of the playoffs. 

As I have shown above, every time a legend left or missed an entire season, the team averaged 15.5 wins less than the season before.

Now, you would expect the same thing to occur with Jordan suddenly retiring before the 1993-1994 season and the Bulls replacing him with Pete Myers, a player from the CBA.

However, the team went from 57 wins the year before to 55 without Jordan and 51-21 in the games Pippen played in, which is a 70.83 winning percentage, while the season before with Jordan, the team had a 69.5 winning percentage, lower with Jordan than without him. 

In 1993-1994, the Bulls made the second round of the playoffs and lost to the Knicks in seven games only because of the worst call in NBA history, which cost the Bulls game five of the series.

Had the Bulls won that series, which they would have had it not been for that call, then the Bulls would've face the Pacers in the ECF and likely would've defeated them, as they beat them 4-1 in the season's series and matched up well with them.

That means that the Bulls would've at least made the Finals without Jordan if not for that call and at least gone to six games against the Rockets

Here is a video of the call and of the reaction years later.  

Another fact about Jordan and his teammates is that his best teammates Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong from his first three-peat all played better without him than with him.

Without Jordan, Pippen averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and being selected to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team, while finishing third in the MVP voting.

He also became only the second player ever to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game. 

Next, both Grant and Armstrong made their only All-Star appearances that year without Jordan, as Grant averaged 15.1 points, 11 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.2 blocks, while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and Armstrong averaging 14.8 points, 4 assists, 2.1 rebounds, one steal, and only 1.6 turnovers, while shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from the three-point line, and 85.5 percent from the free throw line.

Overall, when you combine the nine players who played on both the 92-93 and 93-94 Bulls, you will see that the players shot 48.6 percent from the field without Jordan, compared to 48.2 percent with Jordan, while teammates of Magic and Bird had their field goal percentage decrease without their leader.

This is shown by both Pippen and Grant, who even though they had more responsibility, shot nearly two percent better from the field than the year before with Jordan.  

Finally, when Jordan did come back the next season after missing most of the regular season, the Bulls were defeated in six games to the Magic, one less game than the year before.

That year they had Jordan, but no Grant, who was actually on the Magic team that defeated the Bulls.

This is overlooked because people just say that he was rusty, even though Jordan scored a record 63 points in the playoffs when he only played 18 games in the regular season that season and had scored 55 points against the Knicks earlier in the year. 

Kobe, on the other hand, helped make Smush Parker into a respectable starting point guard as he averaged 11.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals, while shooting a solid 44.7 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from the three-point line.

The year after he left the Lakers, he was waived by the Miami Heat, who had the worst record in the league at the time.

Kobe also helped speed up Andrew Bynum's development by feeding him the ball to help increase his confidence, as Bynum became a beast down low until knee injuries cut off his last two seasons.

Also, Luke Walton, Chris Mihm, and Trevor Ariza all significantly improved as they became valuable role players when they played with Kobe.

Kobe was also able to lead a team with Odom, Walton, Brown, and Parker in the starting lineup to 45 wins in arguably the most difficult conference ever, while Jordan has never had a winning season in five years without Pippen.  

5. Jordan Played in a Better Era Than Kobe Does  

Another major reason why people say Jordan is better than Kobe is that he played in a better and more competitive era than Kobe currently plays in.

I think that is false as I believe that the '90s are one of the weakest eras in the league's history.

The league was watered down by expansion, as teams in Miami, Minnesota, Charlotte, and Orlando were all created in 1989-1990. 

Jordan also did not have to face any great teams. The best teams in the '90s were the the Rockets, Jazz, Super Sonics, Knicks, and Suns.

The Rockets had one great player in Hakeem and no sidekick even close to Pippen's caliber, except for the 1994-1995 season when Jordan could not lead the Bulls to the Finals.

The Suns had Barkley, but Kevin Johnson was not as good as Pippen, and Majerle was not as good as Grant.

Then, the Sonics had two really good players in Payton and Kemp, but no legend, and no great third option.

The Knicks had Ewing and no great second option, as Starks was more of a third option.

Finally, the Jazz had a great 1-2 in Malone and Stockton, but the Bulls had better third and fourth options as they had Rodman and Kukoc, compared to Hornacek and Russell. 

Kobe has played against a great San Antonio Spurs team throughout his career who are led by Tim Duncan, one of the 10 greatest players ever, who has had two all-star caliber players with him.

Then, the Phoenix Suns have had one of the most talented offensive teams led by two-time MVP award winner Steve Nash, while the Dallas Mavericks have consistently been excellent as they were led by MVP winner Dirk Nowitzki. 

Also, the Detroit Pistons had four or five players worthy of an All-Star selection and were one of the best defensive teams ever along with the Celtics, who had three Hall of Famers. 

Earlier in the decade, the Sacramento Kings were an excellent team who nearly defeated the Kobe and Shaq led Lakers, while the Celtics have been a dominant team these past three seasons. 

6. Jordan Is a Better Defender Than Kobe Is

A major reason why people say Jordan is that he was a better defender than Kobe is mostly because he won a Defensive Player of the Year Award, while Kobe hasn't.

However, while Jordan was great defensively, he is not better than Kobe.

Both Kobe and Jordan were great one-on-one defenders and good team defenders who were able to defend players of multiple positions. 

Jordan was a better shot blocker and thief than Kobe is, but Kobe has never played with a great perimeter defender like Jordan played with Pippen.

Pippen was always the player on the Bulls who defended the opponent's best offensive player, and he was so versatile that he could guard points guards through power forwards.

Kobe has not had that luxury until this season, when the Lakers got Artest and, even though Artest is excellent, he is not as good and versatile as Pippen was, as he does not have the quickness to guard point or even some shooting guards. 

Also, there was a severe lack of very good offensive shooting guards when Jordan played.

The only really good offensive two guards in the late '80s and '90s were Clyde Drexler, Mitch Richmond, and Reggie Miller, while Kobe has had to deal with Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Miller throughout his career. 

Finally, Kobe has already made the All Defensive First Team seven times and the second team twice, while Jordan was selected to the All Defensive First Team nine times. 

7. Jordan Is Much More Clutch Than Kobe Is 

Another major argument in favor of Jordan is that he is more clutch than Kobe.

Kobe has already tied Jordan in terms of making game winning shots after his shot against the Bucks raised his total to 27—the same as Jordan.

In his career, Jordan averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field.

Kobe has averaged 25 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 44.7 percent shooting, but that is also because of his first three seasons when his minutes were limited. 

However, when you remove those three seasons, Kobe's career playoff stats are 27.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists on 45 percent shooting from the field.

Jordan averages six more points because he averages 25.1 shot attempts, compared to 22 for Kobe (without first three seasons).

Kobe is also hurt in rebounding because of Shaq taking up so much space in the middle. 

Finally, Jordan was an excellent postseason performer, but Kobe has been, as well, and they are both amazing during game-winning situations, as they each have 27 game-winning shots. 

Overall, Kobe's resume is not as good as Jordan's, but he still has a lot of time to add on and eventually pass Jordan with a couple of more championships.

Kobe's career stats are better than it looks, while Jordan's teammates are extremely underrated.

Personally, I believe that when Kobe retires, he will be considered the greatest player ever, as he will win two or three more rings along with several more All Star appearances, All NBA Team, and All Defensive Team selections. 

I look forward to your comments and opinions.