Deconstructing Kobe

Reed —  June 16, 2009

There is no doubt that this title meant as much to Kobe, and to the public’s perception of his legacy, than perhaps any title has meant to any player in recent memory. In that spirit, we have been showered with stories praising Kobe, dissecting his relief, evaluating his transformation, figuring his place in history, analyzing his relationship with Phil and his teammates, etc., etc., ad nauseam. This has been fun, even if much of it is puffy, revisionist, or based on somewhat distorted generalizations about the facts (both statistical and otherwise).

But we’ve also seen something of a Kobe backlash. This must be the case with Kobe, who polarizes and divides the sports world in strange ways usually associated only with religious/political figures. When you watch Kobe, you care. You don’t lukewarmly clap as you do with Lebron, Wade, Paul, Duncan, or even Jordan. You follow with whole-souled loyalty and love or unbreakable hatred and opposition. No matter where you stand, you care about Kobe; you are interested in him; and you watch him with real emotional investment. Accordingly, having Kobe push through the finals every year is a boon for the league. No one stands at the water cooler debating Spurs-Pistons, or even something seemingly epic like Celtics-Cavs.

The sports world might be more obsessed with Kobe’s legacy than perhaps any player in league (or sports) history. Jordan dispassionately ascended to the pinnacle; Duncan and Shaq are casually placed somewhere in the top 5-10 range; we didn’t argue about Magic and Bird’s place, they just kind of arrived near the top. But we argue and wrangle and declare Kobe’s place in the hierarchy of gods with a different spirit – one attended by stretched stats and forced comparisons. By the time his work is finished he’ll have put together a stunning body of work. If he plays another 5-6 years and LA makes several more deep playoff runs, we could be looking at something in the realm of 5-6 titles, 8-9 finals appearances, multiple finals mvp awards, 15-16 all nba first teams, 12 all nba defense teams, 3-4 all star mvp awards, 3rd all time scorer, all time playoff scorer, two time olympic gold medalist, not to mention the unparalleled highlights. He’ll have won the title with two wholly different teams, both opposed by (potentially) all time top 5 greats in their prime (Duncan and Lebron). This may be optimistic, but it’s more possible than you think.

The Kobe haters sense this and know that this title acts as a swift and final counter to their long paraded criticisms. They see that Kobe is on his way to achieving something un-rebuttable (if that is a word) and that drives them mad. And so, we hear old and new criticisms whispered (or trumpeted in Simmons case) against Kobe:

This Laker team was just the least flawed among a flawed group of contenders.

Kobe still has not learned to trust his teammates and make them better.

His relationship with Phil and his teammates is staged; they can’t stand him at heart.

His numbers look sparkling but he was inefficient and selfish; the real credit belongs with Ariza, Gasol, and others.

Even with this title, Kobe is not Jordan and is now worse than Lebron.

The goal of the Kobe hater is clear: undermine, undermine, undermine. Now, as a Laker blog we are duty bound to defend our shining knight. More significantly, we are a blog devoted to reason, evidence, and substantive discussion. We despise fluff and all of its corollaries. As this recent wave of Kobe attacks are based on shallow and/or false interpretations of the factual record (or no facts at all), they will be addressed in turn. Above all of that, I’m bored and enjoy arguing, so I will take on take on some of these Kobe criticisms.

Now, in full disclosure, I am an unabashed Kobe homer. But I am reasonable and mostly capable of objectivity. Above all, I support my conclusions with facts. I don’t interpret facial expressions, read minds, reconstruct conversations, or analyze hugs and handshakes. Such is irresponsible journalism, and, even though I am not a journalist, I find it somewhere between silly and offensive.

1. Kobe is Not Jordan

This is often used in support of the go to anti-Kobe argument: that he is not Jordan. How many times have we all heard this? “Yeah, well, he may have X, but Kobe’s still not Jordan no matter what he does.” The most relevant and simple response is, of course, who cares. We have nothing riding on Kobe being Jordan. We care about titles and glory for LA and we receive an abundant portion of both. Furthermore, as Dex noted so eloquently, why this fascination with ranking athletes? Given the wildly different context in which every superstar plays, we are fundamentally incapable of objectively comparing them. Wilt vs. Shaq? Stockton vs. Cousy? Bird v. Lebron? There’s no way to accurately make these comparisons. But even if we could, why do we need to? More Dex: we don’t sit around and rank Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Joyce. They are all transcendent geniuses and we simply appreciate that they mastered their craft and brighten our world in different, though always brilliant ways.

Nevertheless, as Kobe comparisons with Jordan will never go away, let’s ensure that they proceed on the facts, not some revisionist and agenda-driven notion of them.

This chart represents four sets of finals statistics from MJ and Kobe. Which set is the most impressive? It has to be Player D, right? Although he shot a somewhat lower percentage from the field than Player B, this is more than overcome by the higher free throw and 3 point %’s, along with significantly higher rebound and assist totals. Players A-C is Jordan during his last three finals runs (98, 97, and 96); Player D is Kobe in 2009.

Beyond showing that Kobe is indeed firmly in Jordan’s ballpark (at least “Phase II Jordan”), these statistics rebut a few attacks levied against Kobe recently. First, they show that Kobe is as willing of a passer, if not more so, than Jordan – and this is at the end of Jordan’s career, when he was supposedly the most team-oriented. Kobe has been accused of recklessly jacking up shots on a solo mission, with Jordan held up as the prototype. But Jordan shot as frequently as Kobe, even though his shooting percentage in two of the three finals is lower than Kobe’s. Jordan didn’t just pass to Paxson one day and ride off to a pass-happy, gunner-controlled sunset.

Did Kobe take some ill advised shots? Undoubtedly. But what does that prove? What superstar wing doesn’t? Besides Jordan, only two other players in nba history have averaged 30 points and 7 assists in the finals – Kobe and Jerry West. Kobe’s unselfish playmaking in the finals is nearly unparalleled. By way of comparison, Wade, who gets so much credit for his 2006 finals run, averaged 3.8 assists per game – half of Kobe’s total.

Second, Kobe was as efficient as Jordan during his last three title runs. Jordan’s free throw and 3 point percentages were lower every year. Much is made of Kobe’s struggles in games 3 and 4 of the finals, but Jordan was equally capable of having an off night. In the 98 finals Jordan shot over 50% once and put up shooting nights of 9-26, 14-33, 15-35, and 13-29. In the 97 finals, Chicago lost games 3 and 4 as Jordan shot 9-22 and 11-27. In 96 against Seattle, two of the final three games witnessed 6-19 and 5-19 performances. My point is that it is disingenuous to knock Kobe for having an off game now and then. Yes Kobe sometimes forces things when he doesn’t have it, but it is revisionist history to say that Jordan didn’t sometimes do the same. Much like Kobe’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls were complete teams that were fully capable of winning when he showed his mortal side. And, like Kobe, Jordan was capable of controlling a game even with a struggling jumper.

When evaluating and comparing efficiency, we also need to place these performances in their proper context. Kobe’s last two finals runs have been against the teams that finished first in defensive efficiency (Boston and Orlando). Is it fair to hold it against him that he shot a few percentage points lower than usual? Continuing the above comparison, Jordan’s 98 finals were against the league’s 16th ranked defense (Utah), and the 97 finals against the 9th ranked defense (Utah). If Kobe played against Milwaukee or Dallas in the finals (two middle of the road defensive teams), what would his numbers have looked like?

Now, my point is not that Kobe is as good as or better than Jordan. He has obviously not put together an equivalent body of work. And, it is fair to point out that Jordan was 32-34 during the three finals runs listed above (although with much less mileage than Kobe will have at a similar stage due to college and baseball). More importantly, Kobe has not approximated Jordan’s first three finals runs, which are simply off the charts. For example, 1993 against Phoenix: 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists on 50.7% shooting. Although even these great early finals runs for Jordan need to be read in context. With respect to the Phoenix series, note that (1) Phoenix had the 9th ranked defense, and (2) the league shot almost 2% points higher in the early 90s compared with recent seasons. I keep harping on the former point because it is salient — in any year it is difficult to maintain peak efficiency against the very elite defenses. Consider that in those same 1993 playoffs Jordan faced the league’s #1 defense in the conference finals (New York) and had a nightmare series, averaging only 10 makes on 26 attempts, good for 40% shooting. In the first three games of this series, he shot 10-28, 12-32, and 3-18. In the final game he went 8-24. That represents 4 of the 6 games (although he did have a huge 54 point explosion in game 4, when the Bulls were down 2-1 and needed a win).

Still, Kobe’s not Jordan. His career resume and best playoff performances still fall short. We don’t ultimately care, but many of the arguments that attempt to discredit Kobe by pointing to Jordan simply get the facts wrong. I don’t want to hear that Kobe’s on a stubborn solo mission, won’t pass, and has too many mortal games — and have Jordan thrown in my face. Kobe just put up a finals that was on par with and probably eclipsed Jordan’s last three finals, and he did so against the league’s best defensive team.

And, in some respects, I’m glad Kobe’s not Jordan. I’m glad he doesn’t “command” a room the same way. Kobe’s devotion is basketball and basketball alone. (Can you imagine if Simmons told Bird he wasn’t as good as Magic because he couldn’t “command a room”? He’d be appropriately slapped in the mouth). Maybe Kobe will also avoid some of Jordan’s pitfalls along the way — diminishing comebacks, failed front office ventures (the irony is that Kobe got more out of Kwame than Jordan ever did). But that’s all besides the present point. By any measure Kobe just put up a grade A finals for the ages — even if it’s compared to the Basketball Prototype.

2. Kobe is Not Lebron

Now, this is also true: Kobe is not Lebron. But now I’m speaking metaphysically as opposed to comparatively. The common argument goes something like this. Lebron is better than Kobe because his stats are far superior; the only reason Lebron didn’t beat Orlando and Kobe did is because Lebron’s teammates forsook him.

The truth is that Lebron’s stats against Orlando (and during the regular season) are far superior to Kobe’s, but they don’t tell the whole story. Lebron and Kobe’s stats vs. Orlando:

What do we make of these numbers? Well, in terms of pure volume Lebron wins out. He also shot a significantly higher percentage from the field. But I want to extrapolate from the team offensive efficiency and three point shooting numbers. Both LA and Cleveland demolished Orlando’s league leading defense with 110 ratings, but LA did it as a team and Lebron did it alone. One way of viewing this is to praise Lebron over Kobe; the other is to recognize that Lebron was less capable of opening up the game for his teammates. I posit that Kobe’s refined offensive game actually is much more conducive to creating and enhancing teammate opportunities, even if Lebron is usually praised as the more willing passer.

Ric Bucher actually got me thinking about this in a Simmons podcast. He said that while Lebron put up sparkling numbers, he did so very inefficiently – but not in the sense that he shot a low %. Instead, Lebron’s lack of post game and three point shooting force him to dribble endlessly while searching for an opening to penetrate, eating away at the shot clock and leaving teammates standing stagnant. The result was often a powerful Lebron drive or free throws, but it came at a heavy cost for team play – the defense can largely play him one on one, play off him a few feet, and stay at home on his teammates. Orlando did this beautifully and Lebron fell for the trap, leading to his teammates really struggling to get easy opportunities from the field. It was Lebron or nothing every possession.

Compare this with Kobe’s game against Orlando. Kobe is the single best post up guard in the league – his strength, footwork, and moves render him deadly on the block. As a consequence, Orlando had to double team Kobe every time he got the ball down low. Furthermore, Kobe’s unlimited range force his man to stick with him out past the three point line, even on the weak side. Kobe can score from anywhere with very little effort, whether it’s in the post, outside the three point line, on a pick and roll, in the midrange, etc. He’s also a deadly free throw shooter so the defense has to play him honest. The result? Kobe is much more capable of efficiently breaking down a defense than Lebron. Why was Fisher wide open for the game-winning three in overtime of game 4? Because Orlando had to double Kobe in the post. Why did Trevor Ariza shoot dozens and dozens of threes with no one within 10 feet of him? Ditto. Why do Pau and Odom work such an effective high-low game after Kobe initiates the pick and roll? Because the defense knows Kobe can pull up quickly from anywhere. Why did Gasol see so much single coverage? On and on we could go.

This is how a team starting Smush Parker, Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown finished 8th in offensive efficiency in 2006. Think about that. So, while Kobe may not shoot the same percentage from the field as Lebron, his diverse, quick-hitting, polished offensive game makes him much more capable of breaking down the heart of a defense and opening up opportunities for others. All of those easy shots were there for Fisher, Ariza, Gasol, and Odom because of Kobe. And credit to them for rising up and making them.

I recognize that Lebron may have had a superior regular season than Kobe, but remember that one of them consistently cracked the elite teams and the other did not. In terms of driving a team to success, Kobe is still miles ahead of Lebron.

3. Kobe Remains a Poor Leader; He Does Not Make His Teammates Better and They Dislike Him

This is the final criticism I’ll address, and by far the most infuriating. There are variations on this theme, but the attacks usually boil down to Kobe being simply unlikable and/or selfish.

First, Kobe as likable. Really analyzing this requires the kind of facial expression and lip reading mastery that I don’t yet have a degree in (Simmons rejected my application). And, while I do believe that Kobe’s teammates like him, at least much more than they ever have before, that is ultimately besides the point to me.

Kobe is the leader of that team; the general. I honestly don’t care whether he has bubble baths with the guys after hours or not. I don’t care whether he makes them laugh or plays cards with them. I’m guessing that Lebron, and most nba alpha dogs, are much better at these things than Kobe. The question is whether the leader commands his teammates respect and brings out the best in them on the court. And it is simply dishonest to say that any other superstar in the league gets more out of his teammates than Kobe.

First, it is acknowledged by all, friend and foe, that Kobe had a transformative effect on the other Redeem Team members. He is unmatched as a worker, professional, and student of his craft, and this quickly rubbed off on Lebron, Wade, Howard, Melo, etc. They were all quick this year to point this fact out and credit Kobe for their career years. Everyone, even Simmons, recognizes this (although he did find some way to pervert Kobe’s Olympic experience into a “mistaken” and “foolish” sharing of trade secrets… blah blah barf. Simmons, here’s a column suggestion, how about comparing Paul Pierce’s splendid USA basketball experience in 2002 with Kobe’s?). The maturation of Lebron, Wade, Melo, Howard, Paul, Deron and co. seems to be initiating another golden era for the league (leaving behind the carter-iverson, spurs-pistons and other ice-age-ish periods). Shouldn’t Kobe get some credit for this?

If Kobe proved so powerful in transforming superstars on the Olympic Team, then why don’t we believe he has had a similar impact on his Laker teammates over time? If you look back at recent Laker teams and players, you’ll see that this has to be the case. The last few Laker teams are absolutely littered with mediocre players that achieved some measure of never to be reproduced success next to Kobe.

Kwame Brown. Smush Parker. Chucky Atkins. Brian Cook. Chris Mihm. Kareem Rush. Jumaine Jones.

Where are they now? Will we ever hear from them again? Do you realize that the 2006 Laker team won 45 games in the West with Smush Parker starting 82 games (3rd leading scorer), Kwame Brown 49, Brian Cook 46, Chris Mihm 56, and Devean George as the 6th man? Really ponder that. Will Smush Parker ever play again in the nba? Will Brian Cook ever play in the rotation again for a playoff team, much less start? Consider that Smush Parker has a 12.5 PER playing on the Lakers and a career 6.9 PER otherwise; for Brian Cook it is 14.6 with Kobe and 8.5 without. Doing this kind of PER comparison could be its own post.

Now think about Kobe’s teammates on these finals teams. Will Radmanovic ever start again for a finals team? Will we ever hear from Sasha or Walton again if they leave Kobe’s side – and both have been critical performers on finals teams? How many career three pointers did Trevor Ariza make before Kobe gave him his shooting program last summer? (Nine). Would Gasol ever have made an all nba team or been considered a top 10 overall player on Memphis? How much money has playing with Kobe earned Ariza, Sasha, Walton, Smush, Cook, Kwame, Turiaf, Fisher, etc., etc.

Some people in life are simply uncomfortable with mediocrity. They do not stand for it. Kobe is that teacher we all had in high school that was all business, made you do four hours of homework every night, show up every day, and pour everything you had into each assignment, paper, or test. You hated that teacher. You may have often complied out of fear, but by the end you learned a hell of a lot more than you ever had before and appreciated it. That’s Kobe Bryant. He may not be Mr. Kicks and Giggles, but you will absolutely work your tail off and play better than you ever have before under him. As Jerry West said recently, “Kobe approaches the game the right way. Not smiling around and glad-handing guys on the other team. I watch some of these guys laughing and joking before the game or on the bench. If it’s that damn funny … maybe that’s a sign of weakness.” And all of this is on top of how easy he makes the game for others on the court, which we’ve addressed.

Bill Simmons just wrote an article that alleged Kobe has not changed from last year. He even pointed to fancy numbers showing that Kobe’s playoff performance this year was similar to last year. He doesn’t realize that he’s proven my point. No, Kobe has not changed from last year. He’s the same dominant superstar that drove his team to blitz through the most brutal conference in decades. But his teammates have changed, and Kobe was the one that changed them. That is the story of these playoffs — the transformation of Gasol, Ariza, and Odom from timid softies to rise to the moment men. They now own Kobe’s work ethic and killer instinct. And they are doing things that no one thought they would ever do. Just like Lebron and Wade and Howard and Melo before them… The Lakers won 65 games; they did not lose three games in a row all year or two in a row during the playoffs. They were 4-1 in closeout games and simply crushed their opponents in each of the four wins. Why? Because the team possessed the spirit of Kobe.

4. Finally, a Word to Mr. Simmons

I like Bill Simmons. I am genuinely excited when he writes a new column on the nba. I will buy his new book the first day it comes out and probably enjoy it. But sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Bill’s had a rough playoff run. He’s said things like:

• “I have been saying that for 2 months now. What we’re watching this spring is basically the 2006 Lakers, only with Gasol replacing Chris Mihm, Kobe being 15% worse, Bynum being 20% better and Ariza being a slight improvement over Ariza. It’s a limited team that lacks toughness and can be beaten.”

• “The ’09 Cavs are the ’91 Bulls reincarnated… everyone keeps underestimating them and nobody realizes that they are about the blow thru these last 2 rounds.”

• “The Magic just needed 7 games to beat a Celtics team that had 2 scorers with dead legs, Scalabrine/Marbury/House as their bench and actually ran a game-ending play for Glen Davis. Don’t start thinking Orlando is good please.”

• “Dwight Howard couldn’t score 40 points in a game if he was going against Yi Jianlian’s chair.”

These ironclad, can’t be otherwise predictions have proven not just wrong, but embarrassingly wrong. That would be okay given that he’s just a fan like the rest of us – we all are wrong and most of us didn’t see Orlando coming. But he has the hubris to persevere in omniscience. Whenever Simmons is wrong, he always follows the same pattern: (1) blame the failed team’s coach, and (2) use hindsight to tell us what the losing team should have done to win. Just admit you blew it, Bill. Admit that you misread Cleveland, Orlando, and LA. Admit that instead of blaming Cleveland’s loss on bad coaching and the failure of Cleveland’s role players you should have considered these facts before making your predictions – that Brown’s offensive lack of creativity and the playoff inexperience of Cleveland’s role players might be a problem after all. Monday morning quarterbacking doesn’t become front page espn writers.

While we know you have to undermine LA’s title as a Boston fan, do you really want to start comparing how our team was built with Boston’s current roster? Do you really want to talk about non-repeatable good fortune? Do you want me to list your quotes damning Doc and Ainge for openly tanking in 2007? Do you really believe that LA’s roster is some cosmic accident wholly unlike every other title team in history? Because if you do, I have some Paul Pierce 2002 FIBA World Championship cards I need to sell.

And, while you were quick to point out that LA didn’t have to play Boston in this years finals (which is assuming a lot), you failed to note that Boston was lucky not face Ariza or the one-legged Bynum. Do you have any idea how painful it was to watch Radmanovic guard Pierce as opposed to Ariza? I would gladly replay the 2008 and 2009 finals, both against Boston, with LA’s current team. Would you?

But, beyond that, Simmons most recent attack on Kobe is agenda-driven nonsense. We get it, Bill. We know you hate Kobe. We know you hate that he now has more titles than Bird. We know it eats away at you that the Celtics are probably a one and done band of mercenaries while the Lakers are built for the long haul. We know that the Lakers have won 9 titles and been to 15 finals in your lifetime compared to 4 and 6 for the Celtics. We know those 60s Celtic rings came in a different NBA — pre-expansion, salary cap, globalization, etc. We know that, as a Celtics fan, you have sworn a blood oath to discredit and undermine LA and Kobe at all costs – even if it infects the tone and quality of your writing. But, please, give us Laker fans the courtesy of relying on actual facts and evidence to support your arguments. Don’t rewatch the finals celebration a dozen times searching for one missed high five or false smile. Don’t read Phil’s mind. Use your army of researchers to give us something meaningful to actually chew on and think about. Because what I see when I study Kobe is the game’s preeminent player, leader, teammate, and winner.




366 responses to Deconstructing Kobe

  1. Not remotely a Kobe fan, but that’s a great post right there. Well done.

  2. MVP puppets latest commerical – Kobe celebration…

  3. New post up on the Lakers and the luxury tax.

  4. While we wait for the next article… here are a couple of links.

    1. Lakersblog has I believe the perfect companion article to Reed’s magnum opus. I love the point about how no one will be like Jordan because of the historical accident of his being The Man when the NBA took off. The Beatles comparison is perfect…

    2. The Onion. “Kobe Bryant Proves He Can Win Championship With Luke Walton On Team”

    I think Luke gets way more facile, naive bashing than anyone on the Lakers, but this is still funny.

    3. Onion on Phil.

    I love Phil and think he gets the second-most ignorant bashing on the Lakers, but this is also funny.

  5. I disagree. People don’t really care that much about Kobe, he isn’t really the polarizing figure you cast him as. People outside of L.A. root against the Lakers, he is the face of the team. So he bears the brunt of their anti-Laker sentiment. Plus, the Colorado incident, ratting on Shaq under interrogation, his coaches comments etc., make him seem like an unlikable celebrity bitch. SO when the media focus on him to the exclusion of other noteworthy stories in the, fans of other teams are justifiably annoyed. Tagging people as “haters” when they disagree with you is an unsound argument. Bill Simmons is just an honest sports writer who doesn’t play the fake objective stance of most in the media – that is why people read him. It’s refreshing and funny even if you disagree. Admit your own bias and someday you might have the same fanbase.

  6. Get em !!!!!!

    Get em !!!!

    Man that was all i could say as I read this article. Chills went through my spine. I have never read an article for or against any point as professional and insigntfull as this.

    Man, great job and not as a Kobe Fan but as a fan of sports!!!!

  7. Another great response to Simmons’ article:

  8. great post! fyi, simmons is still out cold two days later from your devastating, cold-blooded analysis.

  9. That was great to read as a Laker fan just sick of all the criticisms. Reed you did us all a favor. Thank You.

  10. Thanks a lot, Reed.

  11. As a non-Lakers fan(that lives in LA) and a fan of good basketball. I like Kobe. He’s great. He makes shots that nobody else in the world could and REALLY REALLY works hard on his game. But let’s not kid ourselves here.

    In, my opinion, LeBron is much better than Kobe was at his age and is doing the extra same thing Kobe used to do as well. I don’t remember Kobe as a particularly great post up guard at age 24.

    Let’s not forget to credit(I mean at least more than a sentence, that is) Ariza’s and Gasol’s high shooting rate, either, considering that, it might go towards a higher assist average for Bryant.

    Bryant influences other superstars, because, well all those guys realize that they all have that talent level and if they work really hard can be great, just like Kobe. Bench players and other NBA starters have probably come to the realization that they aren’t HOF players or All-Stars and are probably OK with that and spend more time doing other things instead of sacrificing that time, on the court, knowing that they aren’t meant to be one of the greatest ever. Therefore, players like Sasha, could possibly be content on playing for the Lakers making nice amount of coin and being competitive every year. I’m not saying its true, I’m just saying he’s not Dwayne Wade.

    You’re right though about “commanding a room”, who cares about being charismatic when it comes to basketball, it’s not necessary at all to be great. It is a business, however, and when you’re talking about “Faces Of The League”(which The Kobe-ster is), ultimately, he is going to get compared to previous FOTH players and unfortunately, for Kobe and all Lakers fans in general, the looming wave of people pushing for the future FOTH, that is LeBron, to be now.

    The only one beef that I have with Kobe, is that does seem to almost subconsciously sabotage games at the end with his ego-driven, need to almost do it single-handedly at times. There were quite a few times during the playoffs where I would watch Kobe drive to the basket, have the drive cut off in the paint by three guys, leaving Ariza, Fisher or some other Laker wide open with their hands up in the air, while Kobe would try to get a horrible decision of shot off instead of giving it up. The frustrating part (cuz I REALLY like watching the Lakers play, and Kobe in general) is that there were a few times where I called. The fact that there is some guy who doesn’t get paid to watch/write or do anything else about basketball sees that this is sometimes a pattern with Mr. 24.

    Just a few of my thoughts. Also, Simmons is TOTALLY biased and a lot of people get riled up about it including people in my own family, but ya just gotta get past that. Everyone’s biased in some way or another, we just see his a lot more b/c he writes a column that everyone reads.

  12. Absolutely superb. I hope this has been linked to Simmons.

  13. People who dislike Kobe because they “dont like the person” are the biggest idiots. Give me a break, do you really know Kobe as a person other than what you read in the papers from Journalist who are not impartial and just biased? Do you form your opinion from others who really haven’t spent time with Kobe to really know him as a person? What i do know and is never questioned about Kobe, even from his biggest distractors is his work ethic and commitment to winning. I dont know about you but i have the utmost respect for people who are not only blessed with more talent that other but those that actually strive to maximize those talents and not accept mediocrity. You may not like the player, as a lakers fan i never like MJ, but i was always amazed at his playing abilities, but you can at least acknowledge his skills and not try to diminish his accomplishments by exposing your bias.

  14. PeanutButterSpread June 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    wow Reed, some of the responses you’ve elicited reflect the exact irrational negative Kobe opinions you superbly detailed and detracted in your post. Some people just can’t let go.

    Throughout this championship run, I wish some of the Lakers were still here to celebrate it. Guys like Ronny and Chris Mihm, even Vladi missed out, but that’s the nature of the NBA.

    Anyways, I’m excited for the exit interviews.

    Here is the remaining schedules:

    2:30 – Lamar Odom
    3:00 – Sasha Vujacic
    3:30 – Andrew Bynum
    4:00 – Shannon Brown
    4:30 – Josh Powell

    9:30 – Adam Morrison
    10:00 – DJ Mbenga
    2:00 – Kobe Bryant

    D-Fish, Pau, Trevor, Luke, Jordie, Sun Yue have already had theirs.

  15. D-Fish on Rome is Burning, talking about Gasol getting a grasp on the offense and how he was great at creating open looks for players throughout the playoffs. Thought it needed to be mentioned that this is a team game. VIVA LA GASOL! VIVA LA LAKERS!

  16. I can’t stand Kobe/MJ comparisons. But to squash that nonsense Pippen called Kobe the closest to him. Jordan’s trainer the same. When Jordan was asked who was the closest heir T-Mac, Carter or Kobe MJ said Kobe “…He plays both ends”. Now I hated what Simmons wrote (except the ending which was a good release after reading all the garbage). We don’t hear much about ex-players blasting Kobe. I don’t know if Smush counts. Unless everyone was blasting Kobe then Simmons has a case. Which he doesn’t (unless he interviews Smush where he’s playing 3rd string somewhere in the world). If his team mates disliked him so much why hasn’t anyone demanded a trade? Do you think Fish would’ve wanted to come back or Phil for that matter? How come Odom or Luke hasn’t demanded a trade yet? Thank you Reed great come back. Go Lake Show.

  17. Holy shit. that might have been the single greatest basketball analysis i’ve ever read.

  18. Wow! Nice read.

    I wonder how Bill Simmons felt when his beloved Celtics where chanting “MVP” to Kobe a couple season ago when they played at the boston garden.

    Probably cried himself to sleep that night

  19. Thank you, Reed.

  20. ForgiveMeFish June 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Reed – I am a regular here at FB&G but have yet to post up any responses to any of the other blogs. However, I could not read this article and just walk away without commending you on a great piece of writing. I recently have been debating against many Kobe haters and Celtic fans and all I get thrown to my face are the exact same points you talked about and now, the new Simmons article. Granted I was able to hold my own ground, I want to thank you for equipping me with a piece that will be tough to argue against.

  21. 306-Shaka: Do you read Simmons? I, like most NBA fans, read him and by and large, enjoy him but to call him “an honest sports writer who doesn’t play the fake objective stance of most in the media” is comical. I suppose you are saying he takes a real, subjective stance and that is what makes him honest. That might be true, if he did not couch his pieces in objectivity. As Reed said, call a spade a spade. Simmons dislikes the Lakers. That is fine, in fact, encouraged. One of BS’s pieces I most enjoyed is when he talked about “sports hating” Joakim Noah. That was honest and that was funny and I think all NBA fans related (I irrationally sports hate Chris Paul, it happens). The Kobe piece was not honest and it was not funny. It was a failed attempt at real journalism. Whatever, it happens. A real man would at least admit, after the fact, that he did a sub par job. Simmons will not. For all of his fake self-deprecation, Simmons is clearly prideful about his writing and his “analysis” (see as Exhibit A his refusal to admit an error in picking Cleveland over Orlando). Again, that is fine–but we must acknowledge that we are dealing with a childish blogger that ignores facts, takes untenable positions and refuses to admit when he is wrong. There is plenty of room for those types of bloggers on the world wide web but are we sure that is how Simmons fancies himself? I am not. I think he takes himself pretty seriously and it is that hubris which irritates.

    Reed–nice work, the b-ball gods (which are the sworn enemies of the biglaw gods you currently serve) were undoubtedly pleased with your work.

  22. brilliant.

    i anticipate shoving this post in the face of many ignorant Kobe-haters over the coming months/years.

  23. Jackson stated he thought that, upon returning, he wouldn’t see another title but would get close, although (paraphrasing) ‘with Kobe you are always going to be in the hunt. ‘

  24. If Bill Simmons is any sort of a man at all, he would address this article.

  25. Simmons probably tried to read it & fell asleep. Thank you for boring me to tears–I still think Kobe fits all of the bullet points you set out to disprove. Wait til the TV ratings come out; no one gives two sh*ts about Kobe or the Lakers, so no one watched. I bet that was Bill Simmons least read article of the past 2 months, since everyone moved on from the NBA long before the Finals started.

  26. Sam, um, the TV numbers did come out and this year’s Finals got higher ratings than last year’s. Highest ratings in several years.

  27. kobe is really great.

  28. #4 to Simmons hahaha

  29. Wow..this is one of the best articles I have read about Kobe. Thoughtful, based on facts and statistics, and compelling. Great work! Too bad all the Kobe haters won’t even read it, or read it with unbiased minds. (Simmons included)

  30. As to our this title, you are my man off the court, as Kobe is on the court.
    Wonderful post.

  31. Thank you, Reed, for this awesome article. I CANNOT stand Simmons at all. I continue to read his articles in the LA times, but I have just recently given up on it and him. I wanted so badly to say some of the things you said in your article. I am glad that someone was able to say and disprove a lot of the things I have been reading or hearing. I get so tired of trying to defend Kobe Bryant, but I sure am glad he’s a laker. If he was on any other team, I’m sure I’d hate him too. But you have to respect his hustle and his work ethic.

  32. You are obviously a big Kobe-hater just like your colleague Simmons…Who said Kobe’s MJ?

    He may or might’ve adapted his moves while he was still a kid. So you columnists better quit busting KB’s chops! And pls, Kobe did not change? Go & see a specialist, both u and your boyfriend Simmons…

    if you’re such a good writer, can u not observe his/Lakers’ games? Wait a minute, ‘u MUST REALLY HATE KOBE & the Lakers.’ Because u obviously DO NOT know what/who you’re talking about, do you?

    Btw, d comparison of Kobe & MJ is such lingering and ANNOYING! Kobe/Mike is 50-50 that’s it. Mike was more consistent but could he do an 81, NO!!! Yeah, kobe’s not mike, mike’s NOT kobe & most likely, lebron is NOT kobe. What is wrong with u people? He may have played better than kb this season, but he’s still under kobe’s wings.

    Best five but Kobe still did not change and give most credit for his key players only? Why is that? Give me a great layout that even the NBA Analysts will not understand. Commnetators/Analysts will pound u stupid columnists, esp Bill Simmons if u can’t prove a thing abt Kobe & the Lakers…

    Really, your friend Simmons is such an ANNOYING and an embarassment fag! Probably even before he came out YOUR closet.

    Kobe is Kobe! Presently, is the BEST Player on the planet, so forget your MJ23. #24 has been the best for the past 6-7yrs. You can read & hear words, like, “you’re guarding the best player on earth; or, u just cannot stop Kobe Bryant, coz he’s the best player on planet. Simple as that!…

    Keep posting your disgusting ideas that do not make sense, just like u Reed & Simmons DO NOT make sense. Coz u just enjoy stabbing great athletes on their back when they really DO NOT give a FUCK about u faggots! …”hand down, man down!”

  33. Just to point out you’re wrong on one thing: MJ was born in 1963 so in the last 3-peat he was 33, 34 and 35….and you said you love to stick to the facts…
    Other than that it’s a really good post

  34. Reading that Bill Simmons article was like listening to Tommy Heinsohn do a Lakers – Celtics finals game (back in the day). You just feel infuriated and helpless that they are in a position to spew their slanted views to a national audience without any checks.

    Thank you for being a counterbalance out there. Too bad ESPN didn’t have the cojones to put this post on their site.

  35. I stopped reading after seeing “even Jordan”. Jordan left you lukewarm? You’re in deep, deep denial.

  36. Thanks for writing this. Echoes my thoughts and feelings regarding simmons and his feelings towards LA/Kobe. I hope he reads it.

    This was a fantastic post and makes me proud to be a Laker fan and a Kobe supporter.

  37. Fantastic. This needed to be said.

  38. Now THATS WHAT I”M TALKIN ABOUT!!!! Somebody w/substance and facts over just hate or a vendetta! I’m a Laker fan and I love Kobe….but I’m a Laker fan FIRST…..when Kobe is doin too much, I say he’s doin too much…so I’m not wearing Purple color glasses. Some of these so called journalist(s)….Mr. Simmons and experts….Barkley, are driven by HATER-AID more than common sense and REAL FACTS! Good lookin Reed.

  39. Reed – one of the best breakdowns I have EVER seen! The breakdown on KB vs Jordan was good enough but thanks for putting the cherry on top by blowing up Simmons! I want facts. I will gladly submit to mediocrity if the stats back it up and is Simmons case he is the biggest revisionist writer I have ever seen always lacking, of course, FACTS. Thanks again.

  40. RE – The LeBron VS Kobe part of the argument.

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

    How can that entire breakdown include no mention of the fact that Kobe was surrounded by clearly superior offensive players?

    This is a team game, folks.

    No one who watched those two teams play in the playoffs can say with a straight facae that LeBron wouldn’t have had the same success as Bryant if he were blessed with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Bynum, and Ariza.

    The argument that LeBron’s lack of post play / three point shooting makes him a more inefficient creator isn’t supported by the facts.

    LeBron has clearly had more success than Kobe at involving his teammates with his style over the long haul. The numbers do not lie.

    Ditto for Dwyane Wade who also lacks three point shooting and post up play.

  41. r u serious. we have seen a lakers team without an all star supporting cast and kobe gets absolutley nowhere.

    and there is no possible way he will retire with 3-4 nba mvp’s. He only has one now and he is over thirty and past his prime.

    i also seem to remember kobe almost losing some finals games thanks to his lack of ability and stamina. turkoglu stole a ball in the final seconds in one game which the magic would have one if lee could hit an open lay up. and i remember another game they would have lost had it not been for a fisher three in the final seconds to send it into overtime. where was kobe during this recent mention. this years finals was more about kobe’s supporting cast and the magic’s failures.

  42. One of the best Kobe articles I have ever read. I really pray Bill Simmons read this and that everyone realizes he is a DAMN FOOL. Not only are his articles pure garbage, but he fails to step up to the plate and admit that hes made a MISTAKE. Great job Bill, great job.

  43. #343 and 344

    don’t get me wrong, i would take the lakers role players over the cavs role players, but what’s this BS about kobe having an “all-star supporting cast”??? i count ONE all-star other than kobe on this current roster, and that’s pau, and he’s been an all-star just one other time. let’s not pretend he’s tim duncan or something, OK? and NOBODY else on the lakers roster has even sniffed an all-star game. correct me if i’m wrong, but doesn’t lebron have exactly the same number of all-star on his team as kobe??? namely, ONE?

    yes, pau played terrific in the playoffs, LO finally shook off his inconsistent play towards the end of the denver series and during the finals, and Ariza provided a dependable deep threat. But does everyone forget how much Bynum, Farmar, Sasha, and Fisher (with the obvious exceptions of the last two games) stunk offensively during the playoffs? Here’s a hint. It was a lot. You and I scored as many points during the Finals as Sasha, and he was supposed to be our floor-spreading three point threat! When I see some of the Lakers’ offensive numbers, I’m more amazed that we won the whole thing.

    and, answering matt’s question regarding “where was kobe” during the crucial moments of games 2 and 4, he was the one setting up his teammates. that’s how you average 7.4 assists as a shooting guard. read that again. or did you forget kobe’s dish to pau in game two to give them a four-point lead in overtime, or kobe giving a no-look over-the-shoulder pass to kobe to cut the magic lead to 3 at the end of regulation in game 4, or kobe passing the ball out of a double-team TWICE to set up fisher’s shots.

    yes, he probably should not have forced his shot at the end of game 2, but it certainly seems like he learned his lesson, doesn’t it? because he sure made some clutch passes in games 4 and 5 for somebody who according to you was nowhere to be found.

  44. @240

    If you notice Kobe’s public appearances, he’s incredibly relaxed. It was visible minutes after the Lakers won the Finals. The monkey is really off his back. I think we’re going to see a different Kobe in public from now on. Winning one without Shaq is huge. Getting the respect that he’s deserved all along is also huge.

    I’m not a human behavior expert, but Kobe doesn’t need to read this article to feel how you want him to feel. He knew that winning would produce articles like this one.

  45. John McGovern June 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Point 3 on Kobe as a leader and worker is something I have been preaching to my kids for a couple of years now. Both are endurance atheletes(swimming and cross country)and I believe watching Kobe and listening to me on his crazy work ethic has pushed them to higher levels than we thought possible. My son didn’t start swim until 9th grade but now entering his senior year he already has scholarship offers on the table. They adore Kobe as much for his tireless devotion to his craft as his magnificence on game nights.

  46. basketballislove June 19, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Pretty good article, although I disagree with your analysis of why the Cavs lost.

    On the offensive side, guys were missing the kinds of shots they had hit all season. Obviously Orlando was not about to allow James to waltz to the basket without playing help defense and leaving shooters open. And when the ball was out of LeBron’s hands (which it was frequently) guys had trouble creating much of anything.

    But the defensive side is where they lost. Dwight Howard simply broke all of their schemes. They singled him, he dunked. They doubled him, he kicked-out a clean pass to Orlando’s red-hot three-point shooters. They fouled him, he shot 75-some percent on free throws for the series.

  47. Great article. Kobe! Kobe! MVP! MVP!

  48. This article although well thought out is biased in its comparison to MJ. You should have taken all of Kobe’s finals runs averages and compared them to all of MJ’s. I don’t know who is better if you did that but I’d bet MJ will come out more efficient thus a better basketball player. Well there can never really be a true comparison because they both played in different eras with different teams so don’t think too much about it.

  49. kobe tries to be like jordan what are you talking about? the moves he uses, the way the plays, he tries to be like jordan. he even tried going to the bulls.

  50. Great post, but why is taken as gospel that MJ was the greatest bb player of all time? Wilt Chamberlain is probably the greatest of any athlete of modern times.

  51. What an awesome job putting Simmons in his place. I remember well reading him pushing that he doesn’t hate on Kobe and then in the same article projecting hate into ambiguous reactions from his teammates and thinking to myself “he can’t be serious.”

    I couldn’t have defended Kobe any better, and the jab about “expression and lip reading mastery” hit home like nothing else.

  52. Like Kobe much?

  53. basketballislove June 20, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    @ Val

    Yes, the auther purposefully left out the numbers from Jordan’s first three-peat, where he was actually in his prime.

    Probably some of the best overall stats that any individual has ever put up in the finals.

  54. For an “insightful” writer, Bill Simmons sure writes a lot of stupid things:

    “he’s (LeBron) going to win the 2009 title. Easily.”

  55. I just channeled my inner Andy Samberg and “jizzed in my pants.”

  56. i am a GIANT kobe fan, i’ve been a longlife Houston Rockets fan, but ever since Kobe stepped in the league: it’s aaallll about Kobe. and w/ that oath, comes the duty to protect my bhoi against these stupid haters no matter what the cost. Bill Simmons is by FAR the most annoying hater, cuz he gets published. That article u wrote about Lebron being innefficient…i swear, it’s like u stole the words from my mouth. PLAGIARISM!! lol jk, AWESOME writing man. FOUR RING PUPPET SHIRT BABY!!!!

  57. The Takeover: The Curious Case of Kobe “Bean” Bryant

    It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, if at all.

    No one was supposed to be able to approach Mike as the GOAT, let alone be in the same breath. But comparisons are only going to grow more intense between the two, especially if the self-styled Black Mamba gets at least one more ring after just obtaining No.4.

    Conventional wisdom has been that Michael Jordan had no one to pass the torch to when he left the game in the way that he so eagerly received it from Magic and Bird. Sure, there was Tim Duncan, Shaq, and Steve Nash but “the next” … Kobe, didn’t always measure up. Heck, for one infamous night in Colorado he couldn’t even seem to get out of his own way. Although, to be fair, in the realm of public perception Michael Jordan has had his share of infidelities and was not nearly a warm teammate.

    But flash-forward five years and a fourth ring later, and it is Mr. Bryant that can now exhale with a large measure of vindication. At 30, he now possesses the chance to forge his own legacy as he ambitiously set out to do as a brash youngster, fresh out of high school some 13 years ago.

    No, the author has surely not dismissed Lebron James. Oh no, Jordan himself was correct in his estimation recently that James has the potential to be the best ever simply because of his unique blend of athleticism, strength, power, and speed. According to the script, we were all supposed to witness the proper passing of the torch with a league approved James victory in June.

    And who would argue with such a sentiment. James is a gift from basketball heaven. He is the gift to the NBA that Len Bias, lost all too soon, should have been. Bias, hailed as a combination of Jordan, Barkley, Magic, and Bird, tragically died of a cocaine overdose one fateful day in June 19, 1986. It is our good fortune as fans, and fitting, that we are able to witness James’ ability and skill, to really appreciate what it would have been like to behold the court majesty of the great Len Bias. We can only ponder how things might have been for lovers of the game if Jordan had a true rival in Bias to contend with for supremacy, to test himself by fully.

    But it remains to be seen just when Mr. James will earn the title of The King. Questions linger about his mental game and outside shooting. Does he have the drive and focus of Jordan, Kobe, or Magic? There is ample time for James to quiet his critics just as Bryant has begun to silence his own, and while James is well on his way, the moment belongs to the Mamba, who I will argue is at least as good as the True King: Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

    Whenever there is any discussion of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, it might as well be a Bears-Packers game in December because blood pressures rise, emotions are stoked, and incredulity, straining on both sides, rules the day. Kobe couldn’t carry Mike’s jock strap. Mike played in a different era, without the zone defenses Kobe sees regularly. Mike regularly went up against ultra-physical defensive play and still dominated. And on and on. To be certain, Jordan’s fans have much to stand on, it is easier to make the case for Jordan. Jordan’s resume is beyond compare. You know the numbers by now: 6 titles, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 MVPs awards, and these merely a smidgen of what Jordan accomplished in his legendary tenure. Jordan’s numbers are staggering. Bryant would have to rewrite his own history to catch up on that basis.

    But like so many things in life and the game itself, when boiled down, the debate is really simple: Who is the better player?

    In full disclosure, I grew up a hard, hard Jordan fan, and still am. Like many kids, I cried as a 12 year-old when Jordan first retired, and was as gleeful as a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet when he returned and established himself as the GOAT. I was convinced, along with most of the basketball-loving public and the world, that Jordan was as good as it was gonna get.

    Enter Kobe “Bean” Bryant. A Jordan clone if I ever saw one. We’ve all heard (and seen) the similarities between them in style on and off the court, it is both eerie and often times annoying, and on this score writers like Bill Simmons are on solid-footing in their observations of No.24.

    We witnessed his 2005-06 brilliance, and most of us had to admit that he’d given that particular MVP award away not on the court, but in a Colorado hotel room in December of 2003. And that’s not a knock on Nash. Many great performances would Kobe give, but still one first round exit after another was his lot. It seemed like his talent was going to waste.

    Last season, it finally seemed like he’d climbed the mountain and overcome the 2004 Finals’ debacle against the Pistons (where he displayed awful shot selection), his personal issues, and well-documented run-ins with coach Phil Jackson through the years. Only, the Boston Celtics and Kevin Garnett had other plans. Once again, a better team playing tough defense prevailed over his vaunted Lake Show. Like Jordan, Kobe and his Lakers would have to figure out how to counter physical defenses.

    But a couple weeks ago, he got it done. Yes, he had Pau Gasol, an awake Lamar Odom, and an improved and clutch Trevor Ariza. Derek Fisher is always there when it counts. But they were his guys, molded by his leadership. One might ask the question, is Kobe in Mike’s league?

    The answer is yes. Here’s why, and why he is arguably a better player.

    Mark Jackson has come under tremendous fire of late for offering his view that Bryant will go down as the greatest player ever. But in essence, he was echoing what some close to the game have whispered: Kobe is the more skilled player. The irony here is that while everyone has openly celebrated James as he prepares to take the game to new heights with his unique ability, Kobe’s game may actually be … Jordan’s on steroids. It is a heretical notion, to be sure. And of course Bryant benefited from having Jordan to study, as Jordan also studied Dr. J, Magic, Bird, and the greats. Bryant was one of James’ idols and James studied Bryant.

    Bryant is an objectively better ball-handler, possessing the cross-over and moves of Allen Iverson, with the shooting range and prowess of Larry Bird. Jordan is the more explosive player, having had a ’44 inch vertical to Bryant’s ’38 inch vertical. He did things the league had never seen, and his hang-time remains hard to believe. Jordan’s hands are also inordinately large, giving him the advantage in at-the rim and traffic encounters. Other than that, the two are identical, right?

    Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He never asked Jordan to do the things that he’s asked of Kobe in facilitating the offense, and, until Ariza arrived, consistently guarding the other team’s top scorer. Those were Pippen’s responsibilities. Scottie Pippen is the single most underrated and underappreciated NBA player of all-time. People that really know the game will tell you that. Easily top 20 all-time.

    Pippen could control a game with defense, tempo, passing and with points – like Magic Johnson – who Pippen himself kept in check, freeing up Jordan to score at will in the ’91 Finals. Upon Jordan’s two-year hiatus, Scottie Pippen lead a Bulls team of otherwise average talent minus Jordan to a 55-27 record, just two wins shy of the team’s overall record the year before with Jordan in ’93. If not for some dubious officiating in the ’94 Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks, the Bulls would have been in the Finals again, four times in a row. It is a miscarriage of basketball justice that Pippen was robbed of the MVP award in 1994, all due respect to Hakeem Olajuwon. But Pippen’s importance to the success of Jordan is evident.

    In evaluating the greatest players of all-time and whether Jordan or Bryant is better, statistics and championships are not the crucial criteria for two obvious reasons. The first is Bill Russell, the consummate winner, competitor, and professional. 11 rings, but he did it in an era with only 8 teams and only a few had a serious shot of winning the championship each year. The other is Wilt Chamberlain, and his numerous scoring averages and records. No one is ever going to touch 50 points a game for a season. Or ask Oscar Robertson, who averaged a triple double for a whole season (more than once before they kept track) how it feels to be left out of the discussion in earnest.

    Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he only set the NBA scoring record and won numerous titles himself. Remember him? He’s busy in the lab cooking up another potential monster in the post, the still-green Andrew Bynum, who’s shown several flashes of brilliance this past regular season.

    You see, it is not an exact science, but an art, evaluating the GOAT. How unstoppable? Dominant? Well-Rounded? Tenacious? Competitive? Skilled? Winner? These are all intangible considerations, among others. I will now set out specific arguments in favor of Kobe Bryant as the better player than Jordan and expose flawed arguments.

    1. Did Kobe ride Shaq’s coattails?

    Kobe played with Shaq and won three NBA championships. Because of this, his success is often denigrated. This despite the fact that Kobe was the clutch go-to-guy in the 4th and raised the play of Shaq and his teammates’ games in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against Portland when they were down 15 points in the final period. This despite the fact that it was Kobe, and not Shaq, who lead the team in the deciding Game 6 of the 2000 Finals by hitting ice-vein shot after shot, making play after play, and pass after pass, to finish off a tougher-than-expected Pacers team that found Shaq, at critical junctures, in foul trouble and unsure how he should attack.

    What is missed in this is that Kobe clearly could have averaged 30 points himself as “the guy” on any team and certainly won a few more scoring titles to buttress his own resume. But he sacrificed for the team. Yes, Kobe did so unwillingly more often than we’d all like, but he did it nonetheless. What is missed is that we witnessed what it would have been like to have Michael Jordan playing with Wilt Chamberlain. Not an easy feat, though Jordan would often muse aloud during his career about what it would be like to play with Pat Ewing, David Robinson, or Shaq.

    Kobe understood the game as any knowledgeable student of the game does: big men are rare, and having a skilled big man like Shaq was a competitive advantage that lead to close, high percentage shots. That is just the proper way to play the game. Kobe still posted 18-24 points a game during those years, despite Shaq getting 35 touches a game. Like Jordan, Kobe was also an excellent defender, especially during these early years, holding players like Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady scoreless for entire halves and 4th quarters. Both have similar defensive resumes, with Jordan being voted Defensive Player of the Year during an individually masterful and historic 1988 season. Still, given the superior conditioning and skill of players today, I’d call it a push here.

    Magic recently remarked during the Finals’ telecast that “all of us” have egos – referring to the great players – that they all have a vision about how winning is done, precisely because they’ve been so successful at it. So, it stands to reason that Jordan would have had issues playing with a Shaq or Wilt because of his own ego; and that like Kobe, Jordan would not have been comfortable playing second fiddle for long with his skill set, work ethic, and knowledge that the No.1 option wasn’t taking the game as seriously on a regular basis and consistently showing up to camp out of shape.

    2. If Michael hadn’t retired the Bulls would have two more championships.

    This is presumptuous at best. People forget that Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson (and their squads) were in a brutal Western Conference and yet dominated as they peaked during the mid-nineties. Basketball historians and the detail-oriented fan will tell you straight-out that Jordan’s Bulls team struggled against those Rockets and Spurs teams during the regular season in the 90s. They were .500 against those type of teams at best.

    Perhaps Jordan would have performed similarly as Bryant did against Dwight Howard in this year’s Finals if he’d played in that scenario. But we’d never know. What we do know is that Jordan never faced a team with a dominant and skilled defensive big man in the Finals. Karl Malone, an all-time great with quick hands, didn’t have the defensive presence of a Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, Kevin Garnett, or Dwight Howard. In many ways, at the Finals level, the teams that Kobe faced were always the best defensive teams that also had big men and were much tougher to score on than Jordan’s Final’s opponents.

    3. The NBA is all about match-ups, and Kobe continues to outperform tougher competition than Jordan faced on a night in, night out, basis.

    This is a fact. Granted, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played in different eras. But do we really think that a slightly taller Kobe Bryant (Kobe is closer to 6’7 than Mike’s clear 6’6) would not have also feasted on the comparatively smallish guards of the NBA during the late 80s and 90s? Joe Dumars, a great defender with a stocky build, deceptive leaping ability, top-notch footwork, and quick hands regularly gave Jordan fits. The reader may say “Yeah, but they still had to use the Jordan Rules.” True. And Michael had his nights against the Pistons, but they made him work. Another player Jordan had trouble with was John Starks of the New York Knicks. Again, a demonstrably smaller player.

    Facts such as these are glossed over by the NBA writers and historians because of allegiance and loyalty to Michael and his image. Jordan and Kobe are friendly by all accounts, it is common knowledge that they talk and text frequently. When asked directly at a skills camp who would prevail in an individual game not too long ago, Jordan stated that he would beat Kobe one-on-one and possessed a better chance to stop Kobe than vice-versa. Perhaps, Jordan was bull-strong and had the better leaping ability.

    Kobe has always laughed off the comparisons himself and been rightly deferential. Usually, NBA greats avoid such direct questions about others and their standing. That Jordan, he of the immaculate resume, legendary skill, and media savvy would condescend to contemplate the outcome of a man-to-man contest with Bryant says something about how close the two are as basketball players.

    To provide more context, let’s delve deeper. Another one of Jordan’s contemporaries was Ron Harper, who in his prime with the Cleveland Cavaliers was known to regularly hang 30 or 40 points on Jordan before Harper hurt his knee. In the small world of the NBA, Harper became a championship teammate of both Jordan and Bryant. The point is not that the 6’7 Harper was better than Jordan, because he wasn’t, but that the league is about match-ups.

    Today, Kobe consistently faces shooting guards at least as skilled as Harper and others from Jordan’s time, on a nightly basis. Tracy McGrady, Jason Richardson, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Pietrus, and on and on. Shooting guards are all over the place. Kobe is not a rarity as the average shooting guard is now at least 6’5 and possesses similar talent and skill as Bryant … yet he is far and away better than his contemporaries. Only Wade is in Bryant’s current class as far as offensive and defensive skill at the shooting guard position.

    In Jordan’s day, the player’s similar to him were Harper, Clyde Drexler, and Dominique Wilkins. Reggie Miller was more of a shooter, but was still a great, clutch player in his own right. But to think that Jordan wouldn’t at least struggle against defenders with size like Ron Artest, the long Tayshaun Prince, McGrady, Paul Pierce, Shane Battier or Pietrus is wishful thinking. For years, the “book” on Kobe was to drape a Tayshaun Prince-like guard/forward over him that was just as athletic and make him shoot over the top. Ask the Pistons, in 2004 it worked. Pierce and Boston’s zone defense corralled him last year, and Bryant didn’t exercise this particular demon until he finally subdued Pietrus this year: a tall, physical, athletic-type guard that in the past would have given Kobe all he could handle.

    Unconvinced? I bring you to the peculiar case of Gary Payton, one of the five best defenders ever. Jordan’s ’96 Bulls were loaded, much-touted and justifiably so, and had just set the league record with 72 wins. Everyone asked themselves: Could the Sonics keep up with them in the Finals? George Karl, he of historic coaching ignominy, realized too late that perhaps he should put “the Glove,” the 6’4 (on a good day) Defensive Player of the Year on Jordan. What happened? Jordan had two of his worst Finals games ever as the Bulls eked out the title. See “Deconstructing Kobe,” a sound piece of hoops journalism and analysis:

    Payton harassed Jordan into missing 13-15 shots over two of the last three Finals’ games, and since Jordan was only able to get off about 20 shots a game over that period (Payton was unparalleled at a lost art – ball denial), he shot a paltry 33% against Payton. Once again, Jordan was given fits by a shorter, crafty defender. Kobe Bryant has made his living off dominating smaller guards and being more skilled than taller guards.

    This is not to say that Kobe is always the most prolific shooter himself, as he often puts up a 40% shooting night against top defensive talent, but that is at least on par with Jordan and Kobe does it against more equal competition and unquestionably better-conditioned athletes. Mike still has the edge in field goal percentage because he successfully attacked the rim more, had large hands like Dr. J, and had the best relationship with the officials the league has ever known.

    Kobe still manages a decent amount of free throw attempts over the course of his career, but it is King James, and not Bryant, that the officials respect. No way do the referees call 5 or 6 technical fouls on Jordan during the playoffs like they did with Kobe on this most recent title run.

    In researching this article, I also came across an interesting tidbit: When Michael Jordan played without a Hall of Famer (e.g. Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman), his Bulls teams posted no winning seasons, even in an Eastern Conference that saw the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers declining as the Pistons rose. But when Kobe Bryant played without a Hall of Famer (e.g. Shaq), his Lakers teams posted two winning seasons. These teams featured the likes of Smush Parker and Brian Cook, in a deadly Western Conference, and still managed to win 42-45 games. Look it up. This is verifiable proof that Kobe is in Jordan’s league.

    We can only guess how the perceptive Ralph Wiley would have summed up the Finals in the context of the Jordan, Kobe, and Lebron debates. Wiley was famously prescient, having once identified Kevin Garnett as one that Kobe would have to do battle with in order to get to the promised land. Like many have noted, the literary world remains poorer for his all-too-sudden departure.

    It has already been quite the journey for Bryant and still more may transpire. One could bring up the hand-check rule, instituted because of Jordan’s greatness and today’s tighter officiating. In contrast, today’s zone defense can be used to argue in favor of Bryant. Both are valid points.

    In the end, the game always evolves, whether or not we like the given agent of evolution. Michael raised the NBA to new heights and was the standard by which his competitors were measured. In his own way, Bryant is doing the same, exerting an indelible influence on today’s great players, showing how to prepare and compete at the highest levels, as evidenced by his quiet leadership during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

    Two different people; similar, yet worlds apart, both dogged and driven by a hatred of losing. Two different paths, but the same destination: greatness among the NBA pantheon, with one, James, waiting in the wings.

    But for now, Kobe Bryant will take that torch thank you very much.

  58. A good analysis, and I agree that Kobe is something special. I personally can’t stand the guy, but I respect him to the highest degree. However, to say in one breath that Kobe’s stats are better than Jordan’s, assists, fg% and the like, but in the other breath to say that the Kobe made the team better when comparing him to Lebron seems hypocritical. Why not compare across all the statistics?

    I think this is a fair analysis, but it feels more like a documentary. By that I mean that you have to wonder what was left out to make the point you wanted to make. I don’t mean any disrespect, and out of all the lakers fans, I find you as one of the most cordial (I’m a Spurs fan myself) but I was wondering how they all compared based on all the stats, not just specific ones.

  59. I never thought I would read a more biased analysis on Kobe than the blog I just read above, but Quis #360 just took the cake.

    If you really knew MJ’s greatness you wouldn’t have typed that inaccurate and long-winded post.

  60. Quis, thanks for that great post… must have taken some serious effort.

    Thanks for the passion, it is a really close and compelling argument as to who is better.

    I think Kobe is the better offensive/defensive player, where Michael may have him slightly on the cluth/big-shot/pure tenacity.

    But I think Kobe’s evolution with the switch to zone defense and unbelievable offensive repertoire set him apart from Jordan just a bit.

  61. Jason, you’re welcome. Reed inspired me with this excellent blog piece. You make great points yourself. It did take some effort.

    #362 – you have a right to your opinion.
    I included this article in this blog, which I submitted to another site as well, Bleacher Report, to address some of the typical arguments against Kobe Bryant the basketball player — as well as to address some of the Kobe criticisms in this blog, some fair, some not.

    So that is why it is long-winded, it is an article. But I simply disagree in your assessment of it being inaccurate. I performed considerable research, and again, based on pure numbers, Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest player ever.

    I’ll repeat: Russell has five more rings than Jordan, yet Jordan is widely considered to be the best. Jordan is only two rings ahead of Kobe in an age with zone defense — meaning that before a player can get to the rim for the honor of getting hacked he must first get past at least one outer layer of defense. This was illegal in Michael’s day. MJ got nearly every call, only James gets similar treatment today. Ponder that.

    Also, I’ll repeat this: Michael Jordan went up against comparatively weaker defensive teams in the Finals. Kobe has had to deal with Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Dwight Howard … in a day where players are more skilled, faster, and stronger.

    I’m sorry my piece struck a nerve. The same thing happened when Jordan began to challenge Magic and Bird for supremacy. People have short memories, and your post is evidence in my opinion. People don’t like Kobe because he has the audacity to strive to be the best. The rape allegations gave an outlet to this animus.

    Again, I am not biased, just wanted to give a fair, pound for pound analysis. And I’ll leave you with this food for thought #362: Pippen made it farther without Jordan in the playoffs than Jordan ever did by himself without Pippen. Now, this fact doesn’t make Pippen better than Jordan, but is proof that Pippen was integral to Jordan’s success.

    MJ’s greatness isn’t in question my friend, there is room for both.

  62. amen…

  63. #364

    “MJ’s greatness isn’t in question my friend, there is room for both”

    No one is saying that Kobe isn’t a great player. At all. What people are saying is that he is simply not on Mike’s level. And that, is a statement that is supported by *overwhelming* evidence. When people say that MJ is better than Kobe, at the very least they can support their claim with that much, while all you have is a biased post that is full of some very laughable notions and flawed reasoning. If you truly want to be objective in your analysis, you need to take the goggles off first.

  64. #366.

    I’ll repeat: there is room for both.

    My take is objective and offers a balanced, thought out viewpoint — more than most knee jerk supporters of Jordan offer in these type of exchanges.

    Kobe is on Mike’s level and this drives some Jordan fans nuts. We live in America, it is ok to disagree. But to engage in denigrating attacks that my reasoning is “laughable” or “flawed” is unnecessary. I must have hit the nerve again.

    I know that my piece is objective and well evidenced since you resorted to ad hominem attacks.

    If I have on “goggles” after giving MJ and Kobe fair treatment, then you, my friend, need Lasik.