Kobe vs. MJ

» June 17, 2008 1:31 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

“This series has shown that Bryant is not Jordan. That should have been understood already. But sometimes we let the mythology of Jordan overshadow the reality. Do you think Jordan never had a Finals performance with numbers like the 27 points and 43 percent shooting Bryant’s experiencing against the Celtics? You must not have watched the 1996 Finals, when Jordan averaged 27 points and shot 42 percent against Seattle.

No, Bryant isn’t MJ. But MJ wasn’t MJ either, at least not the infallible figure we’ve established in our minds.” – J.A. Adande of ESPN.com

This year’s Kobe Bryant isn’t Michael Jordan at his best. He may never be. But people have deified Michael Jordan since his retirement. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten that MJ missed shots (including game-winners), blew leads, and had flaws as a basketball player.

J.A. cites the 1996 NBA Finals as proof of MJ’s mortality.

MJ’s game-by-game statistics:

Game 1: 9-of-18 (50%) from the field, 1-of-4 (25%) from the 3-point line, 9-of-10 (90%) from the free throw line, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 28 points.

Game 2: 9-of-22 (41%) from the field, 1-of-2 (50%) from the 3-point line, 10-of-16 (63%) from the free throw line, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls, 29 points.

Game 3: 11-of-23 (48%) from the field, 3-of-4 (75%) from the 3-point line, 11-of-11 (100%) from the free throw line, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls, 36 points.

Game 4: 6-of-19 (32%) from the field, 0-of-2 (0%) from the 3-point line, 11-of-13 (85%) from the free throw line, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steals, 0 blocks, 4 turnovers, 3 fouls, 23 points.

Game 5: 11-of-22 (50%) from the field, 0-of-4 (0%) from the 3-point line, 4-of-5 (80%) from the free throw line, 4 rebounds, 1 assists, 1 steals, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls, 26 points.

Game 6: 5-of-19 (26%) from the field, 1-of-3 (33%) from the 3-point line, 11-of-12 (92%) from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 5 turnovers, 3 fouls, 22 points.

MJ connected on 51 of his 123 average shot attempts in the 1996 NBA Finals. Jordan actually shot 41% — not 42% (as Adande reported) — from the field.

Michael averaged 27 points per game on 41% from the field, 32% from the 3-point line, and 84% from the free throw line. Jordan also averaged 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers.

Kobe is averaging 26 points on 42% from the field, 32% from the 3-point line, and 77% from the free throw line. Bryant is also averaging 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 4 turnovers.

The 1996 Seattle Supersonics were 2nd in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Sonics were led by Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton. Payton was one of — if not the — greatest perimeter defenders of all-time. Gary battled MJ tooth and nail — Jordan’s 1996 Finals shooting percentages are a reflection of that.

The Boston Celtics were 1st in points allowed per 100 possessions this season. They’re also led by a Defensive Player of the Year — Kevin Garnett. KG doesn’t guard Bryant one-on-one but he’s the quarterback of one of the greatest team defenses in NBA history. The Celtics outscored their opponents by an average of 11.3 points per game in 2008.

Jordan played alongside Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Two of the greatest players to play their positions. The Bulls won 72 games in ‘96, Toni Kukoc was Sixth Man of the Year, Pippen, Rodman, and Jordan comprised 3/5 of the NBA’s All-Defensive team, and the Bulls were 1st in points allowed per 100 possessions. Chicago outscored their opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game in 1996.

MJ made Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman better but they were great in their own right. Pippen averaged 22 points per game, led the Bulls to 55 wins, and took the Eastern Conference champion New York Knicks to 7 games in the year following MJ’s first retirement.

Rodman won two rings, back-to-back (1990-1991) Defensive Player of the Year awards, and captured four rebounding titles before joining the Bulls in 1996.

Jordan struggled in the series clinching Game 6 but his teammates picked up the slack. Pippen scored 17 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, and had 4 steals. Rodman grabbed 19 rebounds (11 offensive).

Bryant is the only Lakers player who was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team this season. And LA was 5th in points allowed per 100 possessions.

For the Lakers to win the 2008 NBA championship, Kobe needs Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to step up like Pippen and Rodman did. Offensively and defensively — the Lakers need a balanced effort.

Kobe deserves criticism for his struggles in Game’s 1, 4, and 5. And Jordan deserved criticism for his struggles in 1996.

MJ’s career is complete. Kobe is only 29 years. The final buzzer of the 2008 NBA Finals hasn’t sounded. The final chapter of Bryant’s career hasn’t been written.

9 Responses to “Kobe vs. MJ”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    One game doesn’t define a player.
    One series shouldn’t define a player.

    As human beings we can’t help but be captivated by moments and place more value on moments than on overall periods.

    It’s not so much that Kobe should be criticized for this series. He’s out there hustling, he’s making plays, he’s still the best player on the court.

    It’s that while Jordan was deified AFTER his career ended, Kobe is being deified NOW – and it HAS to stop.

    Just like Kobe’s legacy shouldn’t be 6-19 in the most important game of his career (IMO) his legacy shouldn’t be dropping 81 on Toronto either.

    Those are both MOMENTS in Kobe’s illustrious career.

    Educated fans seeking to place Kobe in his rightful place in history need to consider everything he IS – not MOMENTS.

    In the end, my personal opinion is that the comparisons to Jordan do Kobe a disservice since every time he doesn’t measure up you get millions (including yours truly) coming out of the woodwork with our fingers pointed saying “A-HA! I KNEW IT” It’s not fair, but neither are all the people that create a reputation for Kobe that exceeds his performance.

  2. A-Train Says:

    Good post, Hoff. I especially like the research.

    A few things. For starters, Adande is an L.A. guy. He grew up in L.A., lives and works in L.A.–he’s a Lakers fan. He’s a Kobe Bryant fan.

    So, keep in mind his agenda/bias when he looks to argue that MJ and Kobe were closer than people think.

    That year, Jordan returned to the NBA after his hiatus. he was 32 years old. That Finals was the toughest of his career. That Sonics team was incredible. Really, that team might be the best team to not have won a title. And you’re right, in that series Jordan’s teammates stepped up big time. His teammates hit a lot of big shots. That year it wasn’t just Jordan carrying his team. His team carried him a bit too.

    But really, if you want to be fair, why not compare Jordan’s title run when he was 29. Why not compare Jordan’s 1993 Finals win against Barkley’s Suns?

    No…Adande picked out the worst Finals performance of Jordan’s career and compared it to Bryant’s run this year.

    All to prove a point.

    Statistics aside, these two guys are not on the same planet. Jordan is like The Beatles. Kobe is like Pearl Jam. Jordan is Jay-Z. Kobe is Lil Wayne.

    Kobe Bryant is a good player. But he’s no Jerry West, let alone Michael Jordan. He’s no Dr. J., let alone Michael Jordan.

    Could he be? Maybe. He has the talent. And if he gets a better supporting cast, he could win a few titles. But honestly, I don’t see it.

  3. NESW Sports Headlines 6/17/2008 | NESW Sports, The Best Sports News Says:

    [...] Blogger talk about the MJ vs. Kobe Saga. I might join in on that action. I am a huge MJ [...]

  4. Tsunami Says:

    6 times I counted tonight the announcing crew claimed that Kobe Bryant was the “best player on the planet” – even after they got blown out by 40. Once I heard “best in the universe”

    I just don’t get it. If you go by statistics, he is NOT the best player. If you look at WINNING – as in the last few years, he’s NOT the best player. If you look at clutch-ness (http://82games.com/CSORT11.HTM) he’s not the best player. If you look at 4th quarter scoring, he’s not the best player. He wasn’t the best player in this entire series, and as the series wore on his impact DECREASED. So why do the announcers continue to say this? What is this based on, exactly? Reputation.

    The mood of Van Gundy, Breen, and Marc Jackson is that of absolute deflation.

  5. A-Train Says:


    He is the best (or one of) of what’s currently available. Certainly, when you look at the bigger picture, being the best in 2008 doesn’t stack up in both definition and description to being the best in 1998, 1988, 1978, or even 1968 for that matter. Being the best in those eras meant you were unquestionably great. Being the best now has more to do with highlight reel plays, merchandise sales, marketing power, etc.

    Just think how in 2004, people were saying Wade was the best. Where is he now? Last year, LeBron was the best. Etc. We’re in an age where it’s all about marketing the current flavor of the month.

    So, in essence, Kobe is one of the best–add an asterisk for “best available.”

    You and I think of it in bigger picture terms. They say Kobe is great and we say, “huh, that’s great? that’s not how we define great.”

    But what’s the NBA supposed to do, talk like how I do about how the league is a joke now? Are the announcers supposed to say, “It’s the fourth quarter so look out for the great Kobe… by the way, I mean great by today’s standards which really translates into just good.” LOL. You know?

    They’re selling a product, man. If Mark Jackson criticizes one of the league’s cash cows, Jackson will be out of a job.

    The problem is that most people are dumb as rocks and believe whatever they hear. Young people today kill me with all of the nonsense talk.

    Don’t know if you guys like rap, but man, I’ve had it up to here with the Lil Wayne nonsense. Wayne is calling himself one of the all-time greats and the kids are buying it because (a) they don’t know any better, or (b) there’s nothing else good out there right now to make them think otherwise. But is Lil Wayne really that good? Heck no.

    It’s the day and age or marketing, man. Stackhouse was supposed to be the next Jordan. Then Vince Carter. Then T-Mac. Etc. The league is so eager to promote a new fresh and exciting product.

    It’s sad.

  6. Hoffman Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read the comparison.

    I plan on making it a series.

  7. Common Person Says:

    Honestly, I don’t really understand what everyone is bias towards their favorite player and criticize the littlest things about the other player.

    Kobe is a great player and he deserve his props and so is Jordan. To me, the goal of all NBA player is that shinning bright metal that’s sitting on the top of the league waiting for someone to pick them up.

    Admitted Kobe or MJ or any of the other great players, did ballhog. You wont be able to score 40 without ballhoging unless you score 20 in a role. The point is they win the game by doing what it needs to be done. It doesn’t matter who got the better stats, its about who got more wins and carrying its team till the end.

    Kobe is never Jordan, and Jordan is never Kobe because they are just too different to be compared.

  8. SoHo Says:

    What a difference a year makes! LOL

  9. Stephen Martin Says:

    I find it to be totally amusing that Michael Jordan’s performance in the 1996 finals continues to be dissected and critisized! Give me a break. I have that entire finals series recorded and no one seems to remember that EVERYONE on that Bulls team was struggling throughout most of that series. Scottie Pippen couldn’t get his jumper going, Steve Kerr was missing horribly from the 3 point line, Tony Kukoc was not a factor throughout most of the series and Dennis Rodman wasn’t doing much of anything either until game 6. Ron Harper was also out of commission which forced Jordan to guard Payton and yet still try to score. When game 6 started, Bob Costas was even talking about how no one on the Bulls was contributing much of anything. He went on to name all of the players who were doing basically nothing. So who do you think was carrying the Bulls team throughout the first 5 games offensively and defensively? Who was drawing all of the attention to himself so his teammates could get open looks? Jordan’s average of 27 points per game is more than Kobe is averaging for his entire career and that includes his averages in the post season! This blog cracks me up! Yes, other players finally stepped it up in game 6 but it was about time don’t you think? Also, how can you compare Kobe’s performance against the Celtics to Michael’s performance against the Sonics when M.J. was directly being guarded by the defensive player of the year AND with help? They were still doubling and sometimes trippling Jordan with the rest of his team struggling and yet he still averaged 27 ppg throughout the series! Let’s not forget about the fact that he won another championship which Kobe failed to do in his series against the Celtics. How this is a “bad” performance for M.J., I’ll never know!

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