If that title doesn’t make sense to you, then we are in for a long journey my friend.
This is a column written by Jemele Hill in late March about Kobe Bryant being the best player in the NBA, and being better than Michael Jordan (titled "Putting Kobe in perspective"). It’s old, but it pre-dated this site so I get to include it now because I was recently reminded of it. I’ve excluded her points about Kobe being the best player in the NBA because it was not interesting or relevant to the Jordan discussion. Her column generated a fair amount of mail for Jemele and I’ve included her general responses to some of that mail (her next column was a mailbag). I believe Bill Simmons commented on it as well in a chat or mailbag but I’m not going to dig that up.
The best description I could give to the column would be to call it unfortunate. Comparisons of NBA greats are supposed to be a fun thing, with discussions of accomplishments, great moments and mind boggling stats. Jemele instead gives us a truck load of excuses for Kobe not getting the respect he deserves and statements about all things concerning MJ except his game. The first statement is an attention getter:
Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan.
Interesting, let’s hear you back it up with basketball related evidence. Should be fun!
Not more successful.
At basketball? Well that seems like it would hurt your argument. 1 point Jordan! Go on.
Hasn't had a bigger economic impact.
Irrelevant. Let’s talk hoops.
Hasn't won more MVPs.
That’s a fact. If you want to argue that Kobe should have won a couple by now I’ll argue that Jordan should have also won MVP’s in ‘90, ‘93 and ‘97. Let's stop this one sentence crap and get the ball rolling here!
Hasn't won more titles.
I have a feeling your argument is going to be based on a lot of non-results based things.
But he's a better player.
Kobe can do everything Michael did, and even a few things Michael couldn't do.
“Can do” is different than “does”. It’s much different actually. Kobe can do pretty much anything on a basketball court, but shouldn’t this argument be based on what these men actually do/have done on the court? Like, with stats and big games and clutch shots and nuances that only a keen ESPN Page 2 eye could uncover? No? Just nebulous unsupported, terrible arguments? This is going to suck.
Kobe is just as good a defender. His killer instinct is just as pronounced. He can shoot, finish and explode. And just like Jordan, the more he's pissed off, the more unstoppable he is.
Look, I’d take Jordan but Kobe is a great defender, so I’ll give you this one – that they are equal on defense. I mean, there’s no objective evidence that would ever lead you there, based on statistics and awards, but Kobe is a great defender. I think Kobe goes through more lapses than Jordan, and Jordan was more prolific and getting steals and blocks.
Of course, the idea that Kobe is better than Jordan -- or even the best player in this league -- is as repugnant to some folks as a rectal exam. Even though Kobe has proven himself under pressure countless times, he gets the A-Rod treatment.
Please explain this. Is anyone saying Kobe isn’t good under pressure? I mean, he faded in the second half of the Pistons Finals in ’04 and he didn’t set the world on fire in the second half of game 7 against the Suns in ’06, but he’s come through far to often for anyone to think he’s not clutch.
Kobe can't please anyone. And it doesn't help that most people suffer from revisionist history when it comes to Jordan, forgetting that he was just as poor a teammate and a ball hog and that he ran off coach Doug Collins like Kobe ran off Phil Jackson the first time.
So Jordan ran off a bad coach which lead to an awesome coach taking over and the team winning 6 championships in 8 years. Bryant ran off an awesome coach (by that time, historically great) after winning 3 championships for a lesser coach which lead to disappointing results for the Lakers. You're including this?
And really, what is this poor teammate business? He was a hard ass. So was Bird, so was Magic. There’s nothing wrong with a superstar pushing his teammates to come up to his level. Say whatever you want about how “fun” it may not have been to play with Jordan, but he made his teammates better. This is a stupid direction to take this argument. If Michael Jordan had the temperament of Tracy McGrady, then he doesn’t win 6 rings. Jordan was a “ball hog” to the extent that he needed to be to give his team the best chance to win.
In fact, you could argue that Jordan was even worse. Far as we know, Kobe hasn't jacked up any of his teammates the way Jordan punched out Steve Kerr and Will Perdue at practice.
Worse what? As a teammate? This is so subjective it’s pointless, and I could argue that a guy who takes a leak in his teammate’s lockers every day could still be the best player ever. This is stupid.
Kobe will never be forgiven for Shaq's departure, but you're delusional if you think Jordan wouldn't have had any ego issues playing alongside a player with Shaq's star power.
So Kobe is better because (you hypothesize) that Jordan wouldn’t have liked playing with Shaq either? This is not a good argument, Jemelle. I personally think they would have worked pretty well together and gotten along fine, because they would have gone like 79-3. But the whole thing is just pointless to discuss.
The best-player argument shouldn't be determined by personal dislike.
I agree, let's keep it to the basketball court! We are on the same page.
But if you want to take it there, fine.
Oh, never mind. You are a hypocrite.
Jordan was hardly the ideal husband, but only the tabloids were brave enough to venture into his personal life. And what about those gambling issues? If Jordan's life had been covered like Kobe's, we would have an entirely different opinion of His Airness.
To paraphrase: The best player argument should be based on on-court results….but…but...but look at Michael Jordan off the court! I bet he wouldn’t have liked Shaq! He was horribly competitive in practice! He gambled!!! Look at that stuff!!!
The gambling issues were debated, all the time, during Jordan’s playing days. Seriously, it was non-stop. Where were you? Bill Simmons thinks he was forced to take a break from the NBA in '93 because of gambling. It got a fair amount of attention.
Besides a different level of media scrutiny,
I totally disagree. His gambling was covered non-stop. Also, a very rich man gambling is not the same as a rape allegation, if you want to go there. Pointless to bring this stuff up. Jordan got about the same attention for a gambling venture in Atlantic City the night before a playoff game as Kobe did for flying in from Colorado from his rape trial during the playoffs. “Michael Jordan” and “Gambling” get about the same number of google hits (more than) as “Kobe Bryant” and “Rape”, and that was like 14 years ago, and he’s retired, and it’s rape! Crude I know, but just trying to drill it into Jemele’s noggin.
there was definitely a difference in the level of competition during Jordan's heyday compared to now.
Possibly a fair point, let’s hear you defend it.
Yesterday's NBA player certainly was more fundamentally sound, but there's no question that today's player is bigger, stronger and faster. When Jordan played, he was a singular force that could not be equaled. Jordan was guarded by the likes of John Starks and Joe Dumars, who were fine players but weren't nearly as skilled or physically imposing as LeBron, D-Wade, Tracy McGrady or even Vince Carter.
The NBA is tougher now.
Sooo….guys are more athletic. That’s a given. Does that automatically make them better defenders? Are any of those guys great defenders? Single guys didn’t guard Jordan, teams did. The Pistons and the Knicks (Dumars and Starks) guarded Jordan, with great team defense. You can’t make arguments thinking this narrowly. It’s retarded. Is team defense in the NBA now where it was in the early-mid 90’s? Maybe, maybe not, but you’re not even thinking this way. Hand checking was rampant and it was an era of much harder fouls that didn’t carry the same consequences. Has anyone ever really beat up on Kobe and went after him like the Pistons and Knicks did with Jordan? No, because they’d foul out in 5 minutes and end up with suspensions.
Kobe, like Michael, is surrounded with mediocre to below-average talent, and Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio are all better than the Utah, Portland and the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix team that Michael met in the NBA Finals.
Based on what? That’s just bullshit speculation passed off as fact. This looks pretty stupid now with Dallas losing in round 1. San Antonio I’ll give you, but the other two? No, I don’t think so. Those Utah teams were real good. Same with Portland. You can have a healthy debate, but this is not fact and I wouldn’t waste my time on it if I were you.
Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing will be among the best centers ever, but none of them affected the league the way Shaq and Tim Duncan have.
This is a piss-poor way to argue that Kobe’s competition is better, especially since Shaq is much better classified as Kobe’s teammate than his competition in the context of Kobe’s career. You know who else was around when Jordan was winning MVPs and championships? Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was in the league for 4 of Jordan’s championships. Shaq was Jordan’s competition a lot more than he’s been Kobe’s. What about Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and Charles Barkley? Did they affect the league? They were Jordan's contemporaries, too.
There are two two-time MVPs in Kobe's own conference (Duncan, Nash), which is a problem Jordan never faced during his championship runs.
That’s because Jordan won most of the MVP’s. You keep setting ‘em up, and I’ll keep spiking ‘em down.
Seven-footers weren't launching 3s back then. Magic Johnson and the Lakers were on a downward spiral, and the Pistons were on their last legs. It was Michael and everyone else. That's not the case for Kobe.
Bill Laimbeer was launching 3s. Anyway, watch me turn this around into a classic Jemele non-point.
Today 7 footers are launching 3s, back then they ruled the paint. Back then there were dominating the post, blocking shots, and weren’t jacking up 3’s like now. Back then big men made it more difficult to finish around the rim, they knew their place was in the paint, to clog the lanes, and challenge shots. Some of the best shotblockers ever such as Hakeem, Mutumbo, Ewing, Mourning, Shaq, Robinson, Eaton etc. were in their shot blocking prime and roaming the paint when Jordan played.
Does that make sense? Is it accurate? Does it further a point? Does it directly relate to this column? Maybe no on all counts. But it has the same impact as “seven footers weren’t launching 3s back then”, yet it’s the exact opposite point.
The Pistons period of greatness was ’87-’90. Jordan didn’t face those teams? Of course he did, but Pippen and Grant were still maturing, and they were strengthening as a team because they were playing the Pistons so much. Jordan put up ridiculous seasons from ’87 – ’90, the Pistons period of dominance. They were his best statistical seasons. There were a lot of great players and teams during Jordan's tenure in the NBA. You can't just disregard them as "everyone else".
The shame of it is that Kobe might finish his career without a MVP, even though his ability can be compared only to that of Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Wilt Chamberlain? I’m pretty sure that Wilt and Kobe have entirely different ability, both in skills, athletic strengths, and the mental aspects (Wilt was said to lack a killer instinct). Do you mean in terms of the size of their ability? Sure, those three have the most ability in history, whatever the fuck that means.
All this time we've been looking for a player who is better than Jordan, but most of us can't get beyond whether we like or dislike Kobe as a person to recognize his contributions to the game.
Maybe you, Jemele. Most everyone I hear calls him the best player in the NBA. I HATE when writers make arguments for themselves to counter like this. Jemele is the queen of that.
Kobe Mailbag responses
Jemele then got a lot of mail on the subject, and had more to add. It gets real confusing here, folks. I have to cut extraneous stuff out to keep you awake. This is actually worse than the original column she wrote, a difficult feat to pull off.
(1) I do not believe the NBA is better now than it was then. It's my fault for not explaining this better. At least a third of you who e-mailed thought I was on crack -- and seriously at least 400-500 e-mails had, "Are you on crack?" in the subject line -- for even entertaining the possibility the NBA is a better product now.
That’s awesome. When you write a column which results in 1/3rd of the readers asking if you’re on crack, you have not put together a good argument (assuming the readers who wrote in were a representative sample of all her readers).
No, it's not. That's not what I'm saying. I believe today's player is more athletic, stronger and has more raw ability than players in the '80s and early '90s. Clearly those players in the Magic, Bird and Isiah era were more polished, tougher and had unbelievable basketball acumen. It was a better game because the players were more skilled. Today, we see guys with extraordinary physical gifts and no fundamentals. So, to sum up: Today's player has more talent, but yesterday's player was a better basketball player.
Then why is it to Kobe’s credit that he excels against players that you yourself admit are inferior basketball players (I disagree, but I don’t want to confuse the situation more)? This makes zero sense.
(2) That being said, there are teams in the league right now that were better than at least three of the teams Jordan beat in the Finals. The Mavericks, Suns and Spurs are better than Clyde Drexler's Trail Blazers, Gary Payton's Sonics and Charles Barkley's Suns. The coaches: Avery Johnson, Mike D'Antoni and Gregg Popovich versus Rick Adelman, George Karl and Paul Westphal. Not even a debate there. Drexler was horribly overrated -- a slasher, terrific shot-blocker and rebounder for a 6-foot-7 guy, but he was a subpar shooter and mediocre ballhandler. You play the who-would-you-rather-have game with the rosters and you would favor most of the 2007 players. Nash or KJ? Duncan or Kemp? Stoudemire or Kemp? Shawn Marion or Buck Williams? The only untouchables are Payton and Barkley. And by the way, I'm not entirely convinced Jordan's Bulls could have beaten the Rockets in '94 or '95 when Hakeem Olajuwon was at the height of his filthiness (I mean that in a good way).
Sorry, this is stupid. You can’t say that team X was better than team Y because you like team X’s coach or superstar more. There’s much more to a team than that. Those Blazers teams were very good, same with the Jazz, Sonics and Suns. But we think back to those teams and the flaws in their superstars and immediately discredit the entire team. You can’t do this “KJ or Nash” game – it really proves no point. When you were watching all those finals, you never said, “man….this team sucks.” But what you are doing now is what you accuse the fans of….revisionist history. I seriously don’t know who would come out of the west with the '07 Mavs, Suns, Spurs, '93 Suns, '92 Blazers, '96 Sonics, and '97 Jazz in the mix. But I certainly don’t think it’s a slam dunk for the Spurs, and I think the '07 Mavs and Suns are probably the 2 worst teams in that group. Debatable of course, but the general point is that we’re not looking at two classes of teams here. Certainly nothing I’m hanging my hat on in a Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan argument.
I mean, did you really just compare Shawn Marion and Buck Williams in a column about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant?
(3) I'm not totally certifiable. I know T-Mac or Vince Carter couldn't stop an 8-year-old on a PAL team. Dwyane Wade's defense also is suspect. My argument wasn't about their defense, but their offense.
So they are bad defenders, but you were arguing about their offense….let’s reprint your original point.
“Jordan was guarded by the likes of John Starks and Joe Dumars, who were fine players but weren't nearly as skilled or physically imposing as LeBron, D-Wade, Tracy McGrady or even Vince Carter. The NBA is tougher now.”
Nope, sounds like you’re saying that Kobe is defended by better players than Jordan was.
The evolution of size and skill from the '80s until now is obvious. This is a league filled with very tall, very big, athletic people who can shoot and do ridiculously dumb things above the rim. When Jordan played, some could match his athleticism, but not many. These days, 40-inch verticals are a dime a dozen. Jordan's killer instinct will always set him apart, but if he played today, his athleticism would not be the distinguishing factor it was before. I concede, though, he would have nearly 40 a game.
So to summarize:
- Jordan’s athleticism wouldn’t stand out as much.
- After all this shit about competition you say that Jordan would average nearly 40 a game right now. Like 25% more than Kobe Bryant.
You are terrible at making arguments and supporting them. You say some bold things and then never back them up, not even close. Usually you back up the opposite point, which is unique.
(4) I'll say it again: Kobe is just as good or better than MJ on the defensive end. Jordan was an unbelievable defender, but some of you seemed to forget he was playing alongside a defender who was just as capable -- Scottie Pippen. If you think that didn't help Jordan beef up his defensive stats, you are delusional.
So you think playing with Pippen helped Jordan “beef up his defensive stats?”
Okay well now this just happened:
Jordan steals/blocks per game in his Chicago years, pre-Scottie Pippen (84/85-87), and I’ll even throw in the Washington years at age 38 and 39:
Steals per game: 2.09 / Blocks per game: 0.86
Kobe Bryant: Career
Steals per game: 1.50 / Blocks per game: 0.60
Jordan in his ’87 year, last year before Pippen:
Steals per game: 2.88 / Blocks per game: 1.52
And get this (since you brought up defensive stats):
In 1987 (pre-Pippen), Jordan was the first player in the NBA (since they tracked these stats) to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season (he had 236 steals and 125 blocks). In 1988 he duplicated this with 259/131. Kobe Bryant has never really come close to doing either of these things (most steals = 181, most blocks = 67), never mind doing both at the same time while averaging 37 and 35 on the other end.
Really, as I said before, you can’t use any numbers to support Kobe being a better defender, even when you solve for Scottie Pippen’s impact (is there one?). Seriously, how dumb do you feel? Oh right, you’re not reading this. Like 3 people are.
Kobe Bryant’s best steals season: 2.2/game.
Michael Jordan exceeded this 9 times, and averaged 2.35 for his career.
Kobe Bryant’s best blocks season: 1.0/game in a lockout shortened season.
Jordan exceeded 4 times.
The value of these numbers can certainly be debated, but you’re the one who wanted to talk defensive stats and imply they’d be equal if not for Pippen. Jordan never averaged less steals per game, for a season, than Kobe Bryant’s career average.
You are delusional.
The reason I give Kobe even more credit is (A) he's the only player in the league even remotely interested in being a good defender and (B) he's been named to the All-Defensive first team four times during an age when every rule is geared to create more offense.
So doesn’t point A make it easier to accomplish point B? How does the fact that the league is geared to create more offense make it harder to make the all-NBA defense first team? They are still naming 5 players to the team, right? Wouldn’t it be easier to make it, if the other players aren’t playing defense? Are you twelve?
And what’s with the freakin’ absolutes (“only player”)? Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, etc. aren’t “remotely interested in being a good defender?” You want to back that up? You’re terrible.
Will Kobe ever win Defensive Player of the Year? Probably not. But then again, he probably won't win a lot of the awards Jordan received because people really, really hate Kobe. The wall of hate that Kobe faces is why he remains underappreciated. No matter how much surgery he performs on his image, most people always will view him as an egotistical ball hog who got away with a major sexual assault even though he was never convicted. Hey, people just prefer to show blind loyalty to a player some people believe is a degenerate, philandering gambler whose teammates would have killed him if they didn't fear prison.
I can’t even address all the non-basketball related crap thrown in here, so I’ll just leave it in to show how batshit nuts she is. Her support that Kobe is better is that people don’t like him as much as Jordan, so he gets a raw deal when actual basketball comparisons are performed. But then she then fails to do a good comparison. At all. All she has are gripes about Jordan off the court, an incorrect statement about his defense, and she’d take ’07 Amare Stoudamire over ’96 Kemp. These are not good arguments, folks. I never heard his teammates say, even well after playing with him, that they’d have killed him if they didn’t fear prison. Seriously, you’re reaching.
Plus Jordan won defensive player of the year for the aforementioned 1988 season where he had 259 steals and 131 blocks. He earned it. Do you know how nuts that is, for a guard, who’s also averaging 35 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds a game? No active player has had more than 259 steals in a season. Only Gary Payton and Allen Iverson have had at least 200, for a total of 3 different seasons. Jordan did it 6 times, and he lead the league in scoring every time he did it. Jordan blocked more shots that year than a lot of starting centers, including Kareem and Robert Parish.
(5) And yes, I still believe Kobe is a better player. This is an eyeball argument. Kobe will never be the best player who played the game. That achievement belongs to MJ alone. He'll never impact the world the way MJ did. But from a skill perspective, Kobe has MJ beat.
Man I’m confused.
Me: “Jemele, who’s better, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan?”
Jemele: “Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan” – (that was the first line of her column). “Kobe is a better player” (directly above).
Me: “So you think Kobe Bryant is the best player who ever played the game, or will be by the time he’s done?”
Jemele: “Kobe will never be the best player who played the game. That achievement belongs to MJ alone.”
Me: “I’M REALLY FUCKING CONFUSED RIGHT NOW JEMELE.”
To sum up her point:
You hate on Kobe because of off the court stuff but Jordan had off court stuff too and Kobe’s competition is tougher, even though the defense is worse and Jordan would average 40 PPG now and it’s easier to score and hey Jordan may not have played with Shaq that well either and Jordan’s defensive stats were because he had Pippen so stop hating on Kobe Bryant. He's a better player than Michael Jordan, except he’s not the best, Jordan is.
But you and I, as her readers, are delusional. She said this twice.