Hate him or love him, anyone that knows basketball can attest to the fact that Kobe Bryant is currently the best player in the world. He is a ruthless assassin when it comes to the basketball court and he has the intangibles to finish games: It’s what puts him in the conversation of all time greats in NBA history.
Because of the embarrassing loss to the Boston Celtics last year, this season was the road to redemption for Mr. Bryant. So it was no secret that as the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic to win the NBA Championship, Kobe’s legacy was solidified. This title is Kobe’s fourth and, yes, the first one without Shaquille O’Neal.
So now that it’s in the record books and all is said and done, are we ready to put Kobe in the conversation with none other than Michael Jordan?
Throughout the last couple of decades, there have been many players hailed as the second-coming of Michael Jordan. From scrubs like Harold Minor aka “Baby Jordan” to players like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill who had great careers but never quite lived up to the hype.
I personally think that LeBron James is well on his way but, unfortunately, he has no championships to show for it yet.
So that only leaves Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant.
As we take a closer look, Kobe has 4 rings versus Jordan’s 6. Jordan has 5 MVP awards not including the Finals, compared to Kobe’s 1. Jordan averaged 30.1 points for his career, while Bryant is far behind with 25.
If you want look at stats, Kobe has a long way to go but anything is possible. At 30 years old Kobe has accomplished a lot and I foresee him playing at a competitive level for at least another 5-6 years. At age 30, Jordan had won 3 straight titles before retiring for the first time, so Kobe has the advantage in that category.
A lot people like to downplay Kobe’s first 3 rings, arguing that it wouldn’t have been possible without Shaq. To me, this is an unfair claim seeing as Jordan wasn’t exactly all alone either. Could Jordan have done it all without Scottie? I won’t completely doubt it, but Pippen was indeed an integral part of Jordan’s success.
Aside from stats, there is one comparison that is right on the money, and that is their determination to win. Kobe’s will to be number 1, along with the notion that he ran Phil and Shaq out of town all those years back, has given him a label of being selfish and narcissistic in the eyes of many. But when I look at Kobe, I see the same fire that I saw in Michael, and I say to myself, “This guy ain’t gonna lose.” It’s the same faith fans had in Jordan. The ferocity with which Kobe plays the game is a clear nod to his predecessor, Jordan.
So if you don’t think Kobe is anywhere near Michael Jordan’s legacy, exactly how far away is he?
The Lakers as a team are 2 titles away from Jordan and Bulls status. As far as individual accolades go, Kobe might get close but Jordan was a pioneer and is in a class of his own. In the end, it may be simply too much for Kobe to accomplish.
Something that can be overlooked in this argument is the legacy of other players not named Jordan. There are a bunch of guys like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that can easily claim the number 2 spot, as well as many others. If I had the difficult choice between the three individuals I’d have to put Magic in the number 2 spot. Just the whole “Showtime” persona and endless highlight reels of flashy passes and sky hooks is enough for me. Being a versatile 6’8 point guard with the unique ability to play all 5 positions is just unheard of.
Before Kobe can be compared with Jordan does he match against Magic first? From a statistical aspect maybe, seeing that Magic averaged 20 points for his career but averaging 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds is in his favor. Magic managed to win 5 championships in his career, which beats Kobe’s current total by 1. If Kobe has not completely eclipsed Magic’s career yet, I don’t think he is too far away. Magic’s legacy will always be remembered because of his uncanny abilities on the floor and what he did for the Lakers organization.
So, do I think that Kobe will ever surpass Michael Jordan’s career? Absolutely not. Do I think he will ever be better than Jordan? No way. I don’t know if anybody will. But I do know that Kobe is the closest heir apparent that my eyes have seen and he has earned my respect. If people think it’s disrespectful to compare him to Jordan, I’m okay with that opinion. But what happens when Kobe manages to win a couple more championships? What then? Will people still be in denial because they don’t want to believe the fact that anyone has reached the plateau of “His Air-ness”?
Records were meant to be broken and I feel that no one man is meant to stand-alone forever. Sooner or later someone will come along that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence of greatness. Whether it is Kobe, LeBron, or some young kid just picking up a basketball today, who knows? But, whoever that individual is will spark competitive debate for years to come.