There has never been a more polarizing topic than the comparison of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, two of the greatest basketball players of all time. So let’s get right into it:
As far as similarities goes, there are plenty to go around with these two greats. Aside from playing the same position, both players are known for their scoring ability. Both Kobe and MJ started out as high flyers with amazing forays over the rim, both players even won the NBA Slam Dunk contest (Although MJ bagged 2 titles to Kobe’s 1). But what they have most in common is the way they approached the game, and how they held themselves above any other player in terms of cut-throat competitiveness. Both guards are known to be maniacal in their quest to perfect in every aspect of the game, both defensively and offensively. Both players are also known for their will and ability to come through in the clutch. Both players will also go down as two of the best NBA players in terms of excellence over a long period of time and excellence late in their careers. MJ led the league in scoring from 1996 to 1998 despite being over 30. Kobe was still considered among the top players in the league, despite playing in his mid thirties.
While many have compared the similarities over the past two decades, there are still stark differences between the two guards. Statistically, MJ’s career stats are much more impressive than Bryant’s. It’s not even close. Bryant’s scoring ability defined him, but MJ’s offense changed the game. Jordan’s best scoring year statistically was set at 37.1 in 1987. This was better than Kobe’s 35.5 set two decades later (*Kobe is the only player to come close to MJ’s mark in the last three decades). MJ was also a phenomenal scorer that changed the way teams defend individual threats. Not only was he able to score in bunches, he was also one of the most efficient perimeter scorers in the league. From 1988 to 1992, MJ’s FG% was over 500. His career FG% is at an amazing .497 (which is amazing considering how many outside jumpers he took, especially at the latter end of his career). Kobe’s best shooting season was only .469, and he barely topped the .450 mark over his career.
In terms of accolades, MJ holds a great advantage over Kobe. MJ won 5 regular season MVP and 6 NBA finals MVP’s. Kobe just has 1 regular season MVP and 2 finals MVPs. MJ also holds the record for leading the league in scoring ten times, while Kobe only did it twice in his career. Defensively Jordan was also much more decorated. While both players have been named to the NBA defensive first team 9 times, Jordan topped out by winning the defensive player of the year in 1988. He also led the league in steals per game three times, while Kobe top steals season was ranking 6th in steals during the 2002-2003.
Another great advantage that MJ has over Kobe is how he was viewed by his peers. Almost everyone who played with and against Jordan deified him and talked about his game with awe and admiration. Although Kobe is indeed respected in some NBA circles, he does not come close to the gravitas that MJ had over his colleagues and competitors. MJ also carried himself with a certain air (no pun). He always seemed too cool to be real and he acted like he knew how to BE Michael Jordan. Since Kobe stepped into the limelight, he always seemed uncomfortable in his own skin, as if he was playing a part that wasn’t really his DNA. That facade, more than anything, is what intrigued and irritated most of the people who regarded Bryant.
Kobe does have some advantages over MJ. Kobe holds the record for the most All-Star MVP’s with 4, compared to MJ’s 3. Kobe has been named All-NBA Team record 15 times. And Kobe has a better 3 pt percentage, although not by much. But one of the most defining advantages is Kobe’s longevity and overall career. Kobe is on his 18th season and he’s well on his way to playing out a 19th and 20th season for the Lakers. MJ just played 15 seasons, due to retiring in 1993 and again in 1998. (*2013 edit) Kobe will also go down as one of the few NBA greats that will play his entire career with one team. And add to the fact that his latest contract will enable him to play for the Lakers for 20 years, another rare feat among NBA players.
But probably the only comparisons that will matter to both players when all is said and done are the number of titles that each player won in their career. Although Michael has the advantage with 6 titles over Kobe’s 5, Bryant is still an active player and can still (technically) compete for rings in the next two seasons. In the end Kobe can end his career with 7 titles, edging out MJ in one of the most important categories in measuring greatness.
While there are a great many similarities between the two, adding to the fact that Kobe has the potential to eclipse Jordan’s title mark, there is still no question as to who is the better player. While Kobe will go down as one of the greatest players of all time, MJ is still far and away the best player to ever play the game of basketball. MJ changed the game at a global level and affected so many aspects of the league and the sport as a whole. His impact had an effect on people, not just during his time, but across several generations. Your grandfather knows who he is, your father knows who he is and your children will probably envy the fact that you were alive to witness his greatness. His absence from the game was so profound that we tried (and failed) to find the next him. Comparisons should stop because there will never be another player or personality like Michael Jeffrey Jordan. We should also stop holding this fact over Kobe’s head and simply appreciate Bryant for the amazing player that he is . Kobe may not compare to MJ, but he by far the only player that comes close. Considering who and what Michael was, that says a lot about who Kobe is.