Sunday, June 8, 2008

Kobe v. Jordan Again

Well well well look what we've found here. So Jemele Hill has her own website, and she recently revived the Jordan/Bryant argument that she made here. She obviously used an obscure blog post on her website, instead of ESPN, to hide these words from me. I see right through it all. But here we are anyway. Nice try, Ms. Hill.

She actually acknowledges that she did a bad job supporting her opinion….

To be honest, I didn’t do a good job of really explaining why I feel that way (Kobe better than Jordan) in that initial ESPN column.

Yeah I caught that. Unfortunately, her blog is not very reader/blogger friendly. I have no idea how to copy/paste content out of it. Because there’s no way I’ll be transcribing all the content, I’ll have to just grab her main points.

The game evolves and so does the skill level. It’s obvious that Kobe has studied MJ’s every move. He’s not only perfected those moves, but developed particular skill sets faster than Jordan did. For example, Jordan was never as good a long-range shooter as Kobe. Over time, Jordan added that element of his game, but it came along for Kobe much faster – as did Kobe’s fadeaway, post-up game, and mid-range shooting. Kobe ceased strictly being an above-the-rim player a lot quicker than Jordan.

There’s nothing very egregious here. Skills do evolve over time, however I just can’t be so definitive in separating their time periods in the way that she can. But can I just point this out:

For example, Jordan was never as good a long-range shooter as Kobe.

Keep in mind that these two players play a very similar style game, and Kobe plays in a more stringent era in terms of defensive hand checking rules.

Career 3-point %’s:

Regular Season:
Jordan - .327
Bryant - .340

Jordan - .332
Bryant - .324

Virtually the same. I would love to see a career shot chart that parsed their shooting percentages based on the location of their shots – Jordan would beat Kobe inside the 3-point line (virtually the same outside). Jordan was a career 49.7 % FG shooter – Kobe is at 45.3%. To be fair, you should remove three’s from that % - when you do Jordan is 51% and Kobe is 48%. Their playoff non-3 % has a Jordan edge of 50.4% to 47.3%. Jordan's percentages during his Washington years were particularly bad, as well, but I've left them in there. We'll call that a dramatic decline phase that Kobe has not experienced.

If he’s such a better shooter, he must be worse at shot selection, because he makes less of them.

Quick sidebar - Charles Barkley was one of my favorite players to watch. One of his downfalls was he liked to take 3's. He took almost 2 a game for his career (as a power forward). Had Barkley never taken a 3-pointer, his career FG % would have been 58.13%, good for 3rd all-time behind Andris Beidrins (in only 4 seasons) and Artis Gilmore. Barkley was more efficient with his field goals, inside the three-point line, than Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kevin McHale. Add that to the fact that he was a 6'6" (at best) power forward who led the league in rebounding and could handle the ball pretty well and he's one of the most uniquely talented offensive players in NBA history.

But here are some of the things that people always fail to consider in the never ending Kobe vs. Jordan debate.

1. Jordan is possibly the most magnetic sports figure of all time.

She goes on for a while on each point, but I’ll stick to the main points because it shows why she’s not going to convince me that Kobe is better. What the fuck does this have to do with anything?

2. Revisionist history has turned Jordan into the perfect human being.

What the fuck does this (that I disagree with anyway) have to do with anything?

3. Jordan didn’t have the Internets, and he missed out on a time in sports media where athletes personal lives are covered just as much as their on court performances.

Am I the only one that remembers the non-stop media frenzy that was Michael Jordan? Also, what the fuck does this have to do with anything?

4. We don’t seem to realize how the size - or lack thereof - during Jordan’s days contributed to his dominance.

That’s true, since Michael Jordan played most of his professional ball in China in the 1950’s. Seriously, this is what you’re spending your time on? Well, if only we had some sort of chart put out by a reputable source that showed us the average size of the NBA players through the years....hmmmmm. Wait, look what I found:

The average height of an NBA player over the last 20 years has stayed remarkably (expectedly?) consistent. The average weight is up a whopping 7 pounds, but you’ll notice it’s virtually unchanged since 1994. The point is, there’s not much of a difference. Are the players stronger, and more athletic? Yes - at least compared to the early stage of Jordan's career - but I would dispute this point with regards to the the later stage. Is Kobe's competition just plain "bigger"? Not really. The players Michael Jordan played against did not resemble the starting five from Hickory High, which is what Jemele seems to want you to envision. In fact, to be nitpicky and turn this non-point around on Jemele - the average player in ’98 was slightly taller and heavier than in ’08, and Jordan seemed to do okay that year, when (at age 35) he was the regular season MVP and the Finals MVP and he led the league in scoring. He also worked Kobe Bryant pretty good in the All-Star game too, in route to winning the MVP of the game. Not meaningful for this argument, but interesting.

She goes into more depth here, and actually talks about basketball and stuff (hey, it is the 4th point), so I’ll transcribe the section.

The players today are bigger, faster and stronger than they were when Jordan played. Granted, the players from Jordan’s era were more skilled and had a higher basketball IQ, but it’s a lot different having to shoot over Craig Ehlo versus someone like Tracy McGrady, who is 6-foot-9 and just as quick. Of course, I realize that assumes McGrady would be interested in playing defense.

She’s made this point before. Players today are better athletes, but players during Jordan’s era were more skilled and had a better basketball IQ. Do you see how pointless and difficult to argue this point is? It’s not like Jordan played in the 60’s. Jordan played through ’98 (ignoring the Washington years). Kobe’s first year was ’96-’97 – NBA players didn’t become superhuman after ’98. Of course, there’s an evolution in the capabilities of athletes, but I have a tough time identifying this separation in athletic prowess between the mid-‘90’s and the mid-‘00s. Does Allen Iverson have a tougher time scoring now than he did in ’97? Was Karl Malone way out of his element playing in this decade? Christ, Jordan had 40 point games playing at almost 40 years of age in 2003. This is not a good point to make. It’s virtually impossible to establish and she concedes that better athletes does not mean better players.

Why bring up McGrady if you’re acknowledging that he’s not that great a defender? Craig Ehlo DID play good defense. Just because he was white and he couldn’t jump out of the gym doesn’t mean he couldn’t play D. Also, wouldn’t a better point of reference be a guy like Dennis Rodman? I’d much rather have McGrady (or Bruce Bowen) on me than Rodman.

Anyway, guys on the wing are huge. You got a guy like 6-11 Lamar Odom, who is able to play four different positions.

Really? Jordan is going to be worried about Lamar Fucking Odom?

You have a 7-footer like Dirk Nowitzki playing the two (and by the way, foreign players were largely irrelevant during the Jordan era).

He does? He’s listed at power forward. He plays the two….once in a while? This is a big deal? Does he guard Kobe Bryant much? Does Kobe guard him? No? You know who could play 4 positions - ex-Blazer Cliff Robinson. Riveting, right?

I agree that the influx of foreign players has added to the talent level of the league. Congratulations, you’ve made a valid point.

You got Deron Williams playing the point at 6-5.

Wow, 6-5. We are truly in an age of superhuman basketball players. Magic was 6’9”. Jordan played against Kidd and Payton, who were taller than Williams (if this mattered, which it doesn't).

Also, Deron Williams is 6-3. I know this because the NBA, Jemele's employer, and Deron's website tell me this.

But, you know, good point otherwise.

Now, this is not to say that Jordan wouldn’t have averaged 30 a game. He would.

Since that's his career average, doesn't that make this manner of comparison a little pointless.

But we wouldn’t look at his athleticism in a vacuum if there were other players with just as much physical ability. Compared to Larry, Zeke and Magic, Jordan looked like a freak.

Did he look like an athletic freak next to Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler? Oh, those guys aren't good examples, so just ignore them.

He wouldn’t look like a freak to us today with Kobe, Chris Paul, and LeBron James and others on the floor.

Sooo? Is anyone’s assertion anywhere that Jordan is better than Bryant because he’s a better athlete? Does anyone think this? That’s the point you’re making.

Which brings me to this: What would Jordan have done against LBJ, who is built like Julius Peppers and taller?

I don’t know, probably the same thing as Kobe Bryant? What would James have done against Jordan? He’d get smoked, that’s what. James had a tough enough time with Paul Pierce.

5. That Jordan never had to go through a dominating big man was a huge bonus. And no, I don’t count Shaq because he had diapers on. Olajuwon won his two when Jordan was out of the league. I MIGHT give you Patrick Ewing. Maybe even Karl Malone.

Comparing guards in sequential generations by analyzing the centers they played against is unbelievably stupid. But if you want to go there…

Jordan played against Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning in their primes. He played against Shaquille O’Neal from ’93-’98. Fuck that diapers shit, Shaq lead a 60 win Orlando team when he was 24 years old – his 4th year in the league. The year after he led them to the finals. Jordan’s Bulls destroyed them in ’96. ’96 – when the Bulls went through Mourning, Ewing and Shaq in sequential playoff series.

I guess what I’m saying is…..Jordan saw the best of a lot more big men the Kobe did, and (oh by the way), he didn’t have an all-time great like Shaq on his team for 8 years to handle those big men, as Kobe did. I love how it's to Kobe's credit to play against Shaq and Duncan when Shaq's prime was spent as Kobe's teammate.

That's like me saying..."There were great defenders during Jordan's day - like Scottie Pippen!"

But could in-his-prime Jordan have defeated in-his-prime Shaq in a seven-game series? Or what about Duncan? I have my doubts.

Kobe was Shaq’s teammate during Shaq’s prime??!??!?!?!??!!??!!???!?!??!?!? That’s a huge advantage. HE didn’t go through him. Jordan had many more battles (ahem, on court) with Shaq than Kobe has. What a stupid point.

Yes, Jordan missed Duncan. I think the big men he faced more than offset Duncan. Give me a break. What an inane way to compare shooting guards….by comparing the big men who they didn’t guard and weren’t guarded by. How many more titles would Jordan have won if he was able to play with a dominating big man like Shaq in the early stage of HIS career? I'll give him the rings in '89 and '90 right now.

She then goes on to point out that Kobe did some things Jordan wouldn’t do – like pouting and fucking up the Phoenix series a couple years ago. She also tells us that the “Shaq situation” would have turned out the same with Jordan. She’s a psychic! Anyway, it’s meaningless when discussing their respective games anyway. I also have to disagree.

If the Lakers win the championship we'll be met with a lot of "Kobe Bryant is as good as Jordan" type columns. I personally love this stuff - comparing players in NBA history. Hopefully, it's more well thought out than this. In Jemele's defense, it was just a blog post on her site, but it's not much different than her column on


Anonymous said...

Picking apart this hack is too easy. That said, you're doing a bang up job. Great site.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this!!! Kobe and Jordan both played amazing basketball. But like it's been said before, the game changes. Kobe plays with a totally different team against a much broader range of players. But likewise, Jordan played his game the WAY THE GAME WAS. He played great basketball and is undoubtably the best player in NBA history. Why else would someone ever bring up a comparison between him and someone else? But to end this, yes there are great players that are changeing and improving the game in their own way every game. It's only natural that skill will continue to evolve into something bigger and better than what they used to be. But that still doesn't matter, the old game vs the new game. Kobe vs Jordan vs Bird vs Shaq vs Johnson. They all amaze us in there own ways and have made the game greater and greater season after season. But there can still only be one greatest of all time. And that is, of course, Michael Jordan.