For years we have been told that Michael Jordan is the “Greatest Basketball Player of All Time”. I saw the man play in person. It’s hard to dispute that. When he had the ball in his hands he looked like he was playing against a lower league. He looked like he was a high school kid playing against fifth graders. He could score whenever, however he wanted. It didn’t matter who defended him, the guy had no chance. Ask Bryon Russell.
But watching Kobe these past few years, I’m seeing that again. Maybe not to the extent that MJ had it, but close. He can score on anybody from anywhere on the court as well. Remember the game vs. Phoenix a couple of years ago in the Playoff clincher when he drained a three and then tapped Phoenix’ coach on the rear as if to say, “it’s not your fault coach, you’ve done all you can do. You just don’t have anybody that can hang with me.” He was right. They had nobody. He was going to win that game if he had to do it alone.
So is there an argument as to who is better?
I think there is. I’m not saying Kobe is better, but he certainly cannot be dismissed without some serious consideration. Let’s look at some numbers here.
World Championships: Jordan 6, Bryant 5 and still going.
MVP Awards: Jordan 5, Bryant 1. Advantage MJ (although I cannot imagine why Kobe only has one)
All-NBA First Team Selections: MJ 10, Kobe 9 and still going
So other than MVPs Kobe is right there with MJ. And Kobe is still playing at a high level. Could he win a couple more MVPs? I wouldn’t doubt him.
Here’s something else to consider. Did Kobe Bryant have a Scottie Pippen with him? Hmm. Pippen is a Hall of Famer himself and one of the NBAs greatest of all time. In 1996 he was named to the NBAs All Time Top 50 list. He is a 7 time All Star and a 3 time All NBA First team selection. And he was there for all six of Jordan’s championships.
Oh sure, Kobe had Shaquille O’Neal. But only for his first three titles. The other two? He had some good players, but no one belonging on any “All-Time Greatest” lists.
One thing I cannot say for Bryant though is this. When Jordan played on the road, (and I witnessed this myself) he was Elvis like. When he took the court for his pre-game warm ups, the home team’s fans would converge on that end of the arena just to get as close to him as possible. And not a few people, but hundreds of them. I don’t recall any other player getting that treatment before or since. So as far as “star-quality”, Michael Jordan is still number one.
So is Kobe Bryant deserving of being considered the “Greatest of All Time’? I think the jury is still out on that one. A lot will depend on how he finishes his career. If he could grab one more Championship ring, even if the Lakers have another superstar to help him win it, then yes I think he will be in the argument. Maybe Phil Jackson will weigh in on this at some point?