Elster's World

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Case Against Kobe

So Jemele Hill’s ESPN.com article about Kobe Bryant and his comparisons to Michael Jordan have generated a lot of debate. Mostly, the conflict swirls around whether or not it’s legitimate to even mention Kobe in the same breath as MJ.

I say no.

Before we all get too excited, I will readily admit that Kobe is one of the best, if not the best, players in the NBA right now. He is an assassin, capable of scoring 40, 50, 60 or even more on any given night (or on consecutive nights as his recent streak has shown). He has the rare ability to consistently make clutch, end-of-the-game daggers that only the truly great players can make. He is carrying a very mediocre team on his back right now towards the playoffs and he’s shouldering pretty much the entire offensive load at his coach’s request.

But he’s still no MJ.

What separates Jordan from Bryant - in fact it’s what sets him apart from almost everyone whoever played the game – is not the raw talent. Plenty of players have nearly as much talent as MJ. Take Kobe. Take Lebron. Was Jordan SO much more physically giftedthan they were? No, what sets Jordan apart from the others was his three D’s – desire, determination and drive. Nobody wants to win as badly as Jordan does. Whether it be at basketball, golf, gambling or fill in the blank, Jordan doesn’t just want to beat you, he wants to destroy you. And this quality cannot be taught – you either have it or you don’t. Roger Federer has it. Tiger has it. MJ had it. I don’t see it in Kobe (too selfish, too concerned with his own numbers) or Lebron (sitting with his son on the bench during a game? Co-hosting the ESPY’s? Jordan would never do bush league stuff like that).

Add on the fact that MJ never won a championship with a dominant big man (Kobe has never won without one) and that (pointed out by Simmons the other day) MJ played in a league with much better defenses (the original Bad Boys, the Knicks, the Celtics and Lakers) where players could hand check (you think John Starks could legally stay with Jordan 25 feet from the basket?) or Jordan would easily have had four, five or even more games in a row of fifty plus.

Don’t get me wrong. Deciding not to live your life so overly focused isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Phil Mickleson decided he wanted to be a husband and father (not to mention get seconds of that pie) as much as he wanted to be a great golfer. So he sacrificed something from his game, is happy being the second best golfer in the world, winning a few majors and making tons of money – and he’ll leave the “Greatest Ever” pursuit to Tiger – who is so solely focused on winning that he seems to have forgotten he’s married to a hot Swedish model-type.

So yes, Kobe can say all the right things - he can develop a tongue thing like MJ did – he can wear 24 (one better than MJ?) instead of 8 – he can quest to be the best – but it jut isn’t inside of him. And while he may be the best player in the NBA right now (arguably) – please please, please don’t mention him in the same breath as (no offense Larry and Magic) the greatest player I’ve ever seen.


  • Firstly, Jordan WAS incredibly physically gifted. His ability to get defenders up in the air, wait for them to come down, then take a clear shot is unparalleled.

    You already know most of what I have to say on the subject, but my points about Lebron were simply that it's too early to see if he has the drive. While the Knicks' thuggery (and terrible officiating that didn't call it) did seem to ground Lebron for a few minutes, that is rare. In so many other games over the past few weeks it has been exactly the reverse - Lebron gets knocked and keeps coming. That he got up and made the FT's alone says a lot for a guy who has trouble with them normally. Lebron definitely did seem to take it easy for a couple of months this season, but he also hadn't had a break in almost two years (Worlds, etc.). We'll have to see what kind of drive he shows in this year's playoffs and next season after his first real summer break to see what kind of drive he really has - and that's what I was pointing out by saying he's just 22. In last year's playoffs, he took everything to another gear, actually improving on his regular-season numbers (something Jordan rarely if ever did - he simply stayed as he was which is mind-boggling itself).

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 5:48 PM  

  • Oh, and the defenses in the late 80's and early 90's were nothing compared to today. A simple way to look at it is compare the PPG then and now, or watch old clips - back then, people often stood around on D, something that never happens now. The Bad Boys were a great D, but part of that is because they were one of the only teams to actually play D in the first place. I think the defenses then cut down on individual scoring but allowed greater team scoring.

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 5:51 PM  

  • The defenses after the Bad boys were much "better" - they could hand check, allowing for stopping dribble penetration and keeping guards 25 feet from the basket, and the refs swallowed their whistles more often - allowing for Riley's KNicks, the Heat, etc. And yes - teams in the 90's were all averaging less than 100 points per game - alot of that having to do with the defense.

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:42 AM  

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