Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan: It Ain't the Years, but the Miles that Matter

Pat Mixon@patmixonSenior Analyst INovember 15, 2010

As the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant enters this new 2010-2011 NBA season at the age of 32, the buzz in the league is how he has passed his prime and is old. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, talk of Kobe’s demise is highly overrated. 

For the answer to the age argument, let’s look back to the player that Kobe is constantly compared to: Michael Jordan. We’re talking the number one and number two best perimeter players to ever lace them up. And, Kobe isn’t done. 

If Kobe can walk away with a third title in a row next June, having vanquished either the Boston Celtics for a 2nd year in a row (my prediction) or beaten the circus called the Miami Heat with superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or won a rematch of the 2009 Finals against the Orlando Magic, Kobe will seriously make the argument that he is better than MJ. He’ll have beaten far better competition than MJ ever battled.

But, that’s not really my point. I digress. 

The fact is this: Kobe isn’t old, at least not in age. He’s only 32. 

But, the real question is this: Does the famous phrase from Indiana Jones, “It's the miles, not the years that matter,” apply?

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When MJ was 32, no one was saying he was old, done, worn out, over the hill. And, rightfully so.

In 1995-1996, Michael was 32. That year, his Chicago Bulls won a record-breaking 72 games and walked away with the first of another three-peat NBA title. MJ was more than dominant that year and his game stayed at that high level until 1998, when he won the third title in a row and retired for the second time. (I’m not going to talk about his third go round with the Wizards. I block that from my memory.)

Kobe just turned 32 this past summer. All factors show he is far from done, his well kept body still humming. He’s not lost any lift or speed, especially when fully recovered from knee surgery this summer. He’s in remarkable shape.

The Lakers have started their title defense 8-2, and although the Lakers lost at home to Phoenix on Sunday night, the team looks strong to three-peat. 

But, somewhere, those miles have to add up beyond the years. Do they or don't they?

Let’s look at them.

At age 32, MJ had played approximately 26,500 minutes. Now, he sat out most of his second year in the league with a broken foot and lost nearly two full years to his venture into baseball. So, that number is slightly skewed lower than it should have been with 10 seasons in the league at that age.

Kobe has played in 14 seasons at the same age and logged approximately 37,397 minutes. That's nearly 11,000 minutes more than MJ at the same age, with no time off since Kobe entered the league at age 17.  

The average minutes a season each guy played is around 3,100 minutes, so Kobe’s ahead of MJ by over 3 seasons. That difference is essentially the three years of college ball MJ played while Kobe went straight to the league. 

Kobe actually played far less minutes than MJ his first couple seasons in the league, not getting to 2,500 minutes played in a season until his fourth year.

So, college ball seperates these two superstars. MJ logged minutes at North Carolina, albeit not NBA quantity. But, he still played and took damage to his body; wear and tear on his knees.

Both men turned 32 and people say only one of them, Kobe, is old. 

The intangible to the miles argument is that Kobe’s work ethic and diet are legendary. He keeps his body in better shape than any player on the planet not called Dwight Howard. In fact, Kobe has employed MJ’s former trainer, Tim Grover, for the past couple of years to keep him in top form.

It’s paid off. Who else could have played through all the injuries last year? This season, Kobe already looks healthy, even coming back from offseason knee surgery.

So, while the miles are a factor, age is age. Let’s give Kobe the benefit of the doubt and just call him what he is: 32.

He’s far from old and far from done. Like everyone asking him recently about the status of his knee, let’s just quit asking. The proof is in this season. Let’s leave it at that. 

My feeling is that the talented overachiever, as Kobe calls himself, will again prove everyone wrong for doubting him. I surely don't. And neither should you.

Want to learn more about Kobe Bryant and his gladiator mentality? Check out the new book, The Kobe Code: Eight Principles For Success -- An Insider's Look into Kobe Bryant's Warrior Life & the Code He Lives By, at www.PatMixon.com.


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