the Kobe Bryant vs Michael Jordan debate

30 06 2008

I’ve heard people debating whether Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan, particular before the 2008 NBA playoffs.  Kobe sure didn’t help himself in this discussion during this year’s playoffs.  This was when he needed to step up to give his team a chance, but he was mostly shutdown by the Boston Celtics’ defense.  (I didn’t watch much of the playoffs, but saw some highlights; although I did see most of the last game, and Boston threw the smack down!)

Anyway, debating such things in sports is part of what makes them great.  You compare current players and teams, and you compare the great players against former great players.  Sports needs those discussions to stay as popular as they are.  But when someone wants to definitively declare a current player better than one of the all-time legends of the game (e.g., Kobe vs. MJ), I think Bill Simmons sums it up well:

Great athletes reach a level where they can’t be passed, they can only be joined.  It’s like climbing Mount Everest — you can’t climb Mount Everest higher than someone else; the important thing is that you climbed it at all. ~ Bill Simmons

In the NBA, that would include people like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, etc.  You just can’t fairly compare players from different eras.  The discussion is fun, but there’s no truly fair comparison, because the game changes over time.

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4 responses

1 07 2008
Kri'

Whatever… MJ is definitely better – he has better on and off court leadership skills than Kobe does and it shows in team chemistry.

1 07 2008
Beppo

I agree — MJ is better than Kobe in all ways. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I was arguing for Kobe. But some people say Kobe is better based on purely stats, which I don’t think is valid (especially in the playoffs!), but also because of this factor, which I thought about quoting in the post above:

“Kobe has shown flashes of MJ-dom, and he definitely dipped into those waters in the playoffs, but Jordan played at that level for 10 solid years, and he was doing it during an era when players got pounded and they didn’t have the hand-check rules. I have written this before but I honestly believe that, if the MJ from ’87 to ’93 played with the rules in place from ’05 to ’08, he would have averaged 45 a game.” ~ Bill Simmons, on the debate whether Kobe Bryant is as good as Michael Jordan, 6/2/08

I recently saw some of the playoffs between the Lakers and Celtics from the mid-80s on ESPN Classic, and it was definitely a tougher game back then. So I think Bill Simmons has a good point there.

And Kobe definitely does not have great leadership skills nor does he contribute much good to team chemistry. For him to demand to be traded before this last season because his team had no chance to make the playoffs, yet they made the finals, shows that the team overachieved in spite of Kobe’s expectations.

I just read something that Kobe said a few weeks before the playoffs, when everyone was making these comparisons of him and MJ. Check out his quote: “I’m not Michael Jordan. There’s only one Michael. There is no other.” At least he knows. And that’s the point I wanted to make with my article — there’s only one Michael Jordan. It doesn’t matter if someone comes along and breaks his scoring records or wins more championships — there is only one MJ, and it’s not fair to compare anyone to that, particularly from another era.

3 07 2008
Kri'

Amen brotha. And pretty soon (perhaps already), there will only be one Tiger Woods. In fact, I would say that Tiger has had more of an impact on his sport (golf) than MJ did on his…

15 07 2008
Fab

I don’t know about more of an impact from Tiger, but definitely just as much. It’s difficult to compare golf and basketball players since one is an individual sport and one a team sport. They are definitely the standouts in their own sports, though. I can’t think of one single NFL player that is so head and shoulders above the rest like MJ and Tiger are in their sports. Not really baseball either, although some of the old-time greats such as Babe Ruth come to mind.

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