No one will ever be what Michael Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls, NBA, or basketball in general. Several great players have been compared to Jordan, most notably Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Everyone thought that James was going to be the next Jordan when he entered the league. Nine years later, James hasn’t accomplished anything more than a couple of MVP awards and two appearances in the NBA Finals, both resulting in losses. Most of the James-Jordan comparisons stopped when James decided to “take his talents to South Beach” to become Robin to Dwyane Wade’s Batman. That leaves Bryant, the last standing talent of the late 1990’s.
While former-superstars Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash have slowly deteriorated over the past few seasons, Bryant has seemed to stay the course or get better. Since Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2004, Bryant has managed to average 28.8 points per game over the past seven seasons, and is off to a great start this season (30.8 ppg). Bryant has several qualities that Jordan had when he played. Bryant’s intensity and fearlessness can only be matched by that of Jordan’s. While Jordan battled sickness during playoff games and other many injuries throughout his career, Bryant has been an ultimate warrior as well, battling through many finger, knee, and wrist injuries. Out of a possible 1,198 games (before this season), Bryant has played in 1,073 of those games.
While playing along with superstar Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant managed to win three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Many people have said that Bryant would not have won those rings without Shaq and Shaq would not have won those rings without Bryant. But long after Shaq left Los Angeles, Bryant won two more rings (back-to-back in ’08-’09 and ’09-’10) with some help from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But I believe that both Jordan and Bryant would not have won their rings without the help of Phil Jackson. Much of the success that both Bryant and Jordan achieved, in terms of winning championships, should go to Phil Jackson. It doesn’t hurt when one player plays with one of the greatest rebounders and defenders of all time (Dennis Rodman) or when one player plays with the most dominant player of all time since Wilt Chamberlain (Shaq).
The triangle helped Jordan and Bryant excel at the offensive end of the floor. It ran through them and allowed them to make plays either for them self or a teammate.
Athletically, Jordan was one of the most athletic and graceful finishers the game of basketball has ever seen. I don’t need to tell you about it. If you want to, you can go on YouTube and check out Jordan’s dunks or amazing lay-ups. Bryant was the same way when he entered into the league. Athletic and explosive, Bryant could jump with the best of them. Bryant had no trouble dunking and jumping over Dwight Howard in Howard’s rookie season with the Orlando Magic. Nobody, who has ever played the game of basketball, had the ability to put on an aerial show like Jordan and Bryant. In my mind, they are the greatest athletes to ever play in the NBA.
While the three-point shot and highlight slam dunks are the “new” thing in this generation of “me”, nobody has a mid-range game like Jordan except for Bryant. One dribble pull-ups, two dribble fade-aways, turnaround jumpers, or anything within 20-ft of the basket is money in the bank for Jordan and Bryant. I have never seen any player, besides those two, who could create their own shot while knowing where the double or triple-team is coming from and still having the instinct to find the open man or calmly knock down the jumper. Their iso games are off the charts and are almost unstoppable.
Bryant’s intensity is the greatest I have seen since Jordan played. Whether it’s battling through injuries or coming off a disappointing performance, Bryant brings the same intensity every night, whether he is healthy or not. His offseason regiment is second to none. The work he puts in, whether it’s in the gym, weight room, or training room, to get his body into the best shape possible is unbelievable.
When you compare players, it’s not always about the numb3rs. We all know that Jordan has six championships, Bryant has five. We all know the individual accomplishments Jordan achieved during his career with five MVP awards, 10 scoring championships, and all that other good stuff. His amazing playoff performances are something that will never be matched.
But if you want to compare someone to Jordan, you’d better be comparing Bryant to Jordan. Since Jordan retired, for the last time, in 2003, Bryant has been the best player in the league. Yes, Bryant has been better than James, Wade, Durant, O’Neal, Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and everyone else in the league. Bryant has been criticized throughout his career because of his inability to make game-winning shots. Now, Bryant has had his fair-share of game-winners, but he has failed way more than he has succeeded. Bryant has probably failed more than any other player in the league when it comes to making clutch shots. That being said, how come every coach would want to have Bryant take the last shot? Jordan failed just as much as Bryant has in his career, but that’s what makes both of them so great.
Failure didn’t bother Jordan. Failure doesn’t bother Bryant. Failure made these guys into who they are. As Bryant has aged, he has gotten better while Jordan started to tail-off in his two seasons with the Washington Wizards. The more Bryant fails, the hungrier he becomes. I feel that he still has another two or three years left in him to play at a high level.
When it’s all said and done, Bryant might be the greatest player to ever put on a Laker jersey and will be the closest to Jordan that we will ever see.