(Note: This article was originally written before Kobe retired)
The Kobe Bryant versus Michael Jordan conversation is (seemingly) never going to go away. It’s also a trick question, because guys like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving (aka Dr. J) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all have very potent claims to the “greatest of all time,” throne as well. For now, let’s focus on the two more polarizing, commercial-friendly players that everyone has heard of.
From being amazed by them on TV to losing to both of them in a video game, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both entertain the masses at levels most basketball players never reach. Usually, Jordan is considered the greatest, but an argument can be made for Kobe. Consider this a simple guide for playing devil’s advocate. Which is particularly useful when you come across someone who is a bandwagoning Jordan fan (Hint: There are tons of them).
It’s easy to compare the players, but what truly needs analyzation is the league overall. In the 90s, the NBA was not as competitive as it is today. Among the completely different style of play was the ushering in of new teams like the Heat, Raptors, Grizzlies and Magic. New teams are never considered threats, usually having to make do with lesser players to establish the foundation of the team. For a player of Jordan’s standards, this was like taking third grade math as a college senior. What are you expecting, really?
In comparison, Jordan was not able to beat the Pistons in the late 80s or successfully take down the “Showtime” Lakers. The Celtics, 76ers and Jazz all hard fordable teams that Jordan couldn’t touch until the rosters changed up.
Kobe on the other hand competed in a league in which most teams were not only well established, but had a star player of their own. look at any team from any one of Kobe’s championship winning seasons. The competitiveness is much more fierce between any two teams, not just the Bulls (who are aggressively highlighted by sports media). Kobe impressed in a league where impressive was the norm. However, let’s not pretend that either guy did it alone.
As amazing as Jordan was, he could not pull off the impossible, and that’s drive an entire team through the playoffs. In fact, Jordan didn’t get past the first round of the playoffs, ever, without Scottie Pippen, considered one of the greatest defenders of all time, on his team (Side note: Pippen has a better career winning record than Jordan himself). Let’s not even bring up Jordan’s championship-less run in Washington. Also, the best team Jordan probably ever faced in the finals were the Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998. The other teams in the finals were either old, like the Lakers in 1991, or completely underwhelming, like the Trailblazers in 1992.
Kobe with two completely different teams, was able to capture championships in 2000-2002, 2009 and 2010. Admittedly, Shaquille O’Neal was a big part of that as well, but the two later championships were part of a whole new league Kobe had to conquer. Twice, to be exact. Putting away teams like the Celtics or Pacers certainly put up more of a fight than the majority of Jordan’s adversaries.
Now, being the greatest of all time, you’d think that the effects of him leaving the team would be detrimental, right? Nonsense. Once Jordan left the team, they only lost two more games in the following season. Not to mention he would retire on three separate occasions, for different reasons every time.
It is yet to be determined on how Kobe leaving the Lakers will effect the team. However, without much star power (aside from Kobe himself) in his final season, it will be interesting to see how the team will continue on without him. However, he has been the leader of the team for over a decade at this point, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lakers do worse than the season they’re finishing out.
Basketball is a team sport, and picking a “greatest of all time” is not going to be an easy feat. Considering how the game evolves almost every decade, there’s always going to be a player who goes above and beyond what that current standard is, and that standard may supersede what the previous standard was altogether. Who do you think is the best of all time, and why? Let us know in the comments below.