Michael Jordan, through his career accomplishments with the Chicago Bulls, has more than set the bar for greatness in the NBA. Every couple of years, every decade, some new flashy guy enters the league, puts up some eye-popping numbers, and starts drawing comparisons to His Airness. In my opinion, the only guy that can realistically be talked about being on MJ’s level is the great Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. All across the board in numbers, achievements, and titles, Bryant is the only one who can be put into a discussion going up against number 23/45. Kobe Bryant recently completed his 15th season in the league, the same numbers of seasons Jordan played overall in the NBA. I figured what better time than now to compare these players on a variety of criteria, and come up with the logical conclusion: after all the hype, opinions, biases, and flashing lights, which guy is actually better based on the facts? I decided to throw out the supporting casts each guy had, as they both were surrounded by supportive teammates and each had legit wingmen for a good part of their careers. This is an individual matchup, so without further ado, let’s find out peeps!
Jordan runs away with this one, averaging 28 points a game in 1985 in his rookie campaign. He won every rookie accolade posssible (R.O.T.Y. and NBA All-Rookie first team). He also averaged over 6 boards and 5 assists in his first season. Kobe didn’t see the court much in his 1996 inaugural season on the hardwood, starting only six games and appearing in 71, during which he averaged 7.6 PPG , less than 2 rebounds, and less than 2 assists. Jordan, 1-0.
2. All-Star Selections and All-Star MVP Awards:
This one is very, very close. Jordan had 14 overall selections to the star-studded weekend, while Bryant boasts 13. However, Bryant has hoisted the MVP trophy four times to Jordan’s three. In one of the closest matchups in the comparison, I have to give the slight edge here to Kobe, being selected one less time but being named MVP one more time than MJ. Jordan 1, Kobe 1.
This category is virtually a tie, with different stat areas favoring each player as it evens out to be almost equal. I turned to how many times each guy made the All-Defensive team, and surprise, each guy has been selected nine times. Therefore, I’d have to call it a virtual tie for argument’s sake, but leave the intricacies up to you guys. The score remains 1-1.
4. Career scoring average, regular season:
Here we go. This is where we throw out all the rhetorical crap and get down to the nitty gritty. In his heyday, nobody could do with a ball what MJ could do. He literally defied gravity at will, could break ankles with his smooth handle, and pull up from anywhere on the court to swoosh the J, he even made contested shots look like gravy (just ask Craig Ehlo or Bryan Russell). Kobe is no slouch here either, as he took the torch into the new millenium and has been the Jordan of the 2000’s. He has exceptional and unmatched skills when it comes to getting to the rack, hitting from anywhere, and being able to drain shots even double-teamed. So, who has more points-per-game after 15 seasons? It’s extremely close, but Jordan’s 30.1 career average trumps Bryant’s 25.3. Some will say a 5 point margin is much too small to give the edge to one or the other, but I must say averaging 30 points a game for a career is quite amazing, not like it’s 28 to 23. The 30 mark clearly gives Michael the edge here although Kobe puts up an admirable fight. Jordan 2, Kobe 1.
Neither man is a stranger to the playoffs. Kobe has played in 208 post-season games to Jordan’s 179. The playoffs are where legacies are made, where the greats pull away from the pack on the biggest stage. That immediately takes Lebron James out of the discussion until proven otherwise. Back to business, Jordan was a playoff assassin. The dude could be counted on at any time, through injury or sickness, to deliver when his team needed him most. The same is true for Bryant. Both players cemented themselves as Hall-of-Famers with their playoff performances. But who has the better numbers? Jordan averaged an astounding 33.4 PPG in the playoffs, a record. Right in stride with his regular season average, Bryant once again puts up a noble fight at 25.3 playoff points per game, but falls short again as Jordan takes this category. Jordan 3, Bryant 1.
6. NBA Scoring Titles:
Surprisingly, Jordan wins this one with much more ease than I initially would have thought. He won the scoring title 10 times in comparison to Kobe’s 2. That about wraps this up without further explanation, sadly. Jordan 4, Kobe 1.
In another surprising landslide, Jordan again wins this category. Based off my previous assumptions, I would have thought this comparison to be much closer. However, Jordan lifted the award high above his razor-fresh head 5 times, to Kobe’s 1 in 2008. Advantage: #23. Jordan 5, Kobe 1.
8. NBA Championships Won:
This accolade may be the best way to separate the greats from one another. As seen, most of the previous categories were very close and subject to argument based on different circumstances. It is very close with these two legends, with Jordan leading the Bulls to 2 three-peats from ’91 to ’93, then again from ’96 to ’98, tallying six rings. Not to be out-done, Bryant led the Lake show to one three-peat (2000-2002), and then back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, chalking up five rings. The advantage here goes to Michael again, but this category is the only reason Bryant is the one closest to Michael’s level. However, in the comparison, this gives MJ another edge and a 6-1 victory over the Black Mamba.
The nod clearly goes to Jordan overall, but this in no way undermines the greatness of Bryant, who is still playing and has a chance to catch-up even if it means he played more seasons than Air Jordan. Bryant is, and will continue to be, the only NBA star who can even be mentioned alongside Michael. I will not even dignify myself to put Lebron James or Dwyane Wade on this platform until they reach the levels of success that Jordan and Bryant share, and until that day happens, Michael Jordan will still be the greatest to ever touch the pumpkin.