“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).
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.