I’ll begin with the comparison that most annoys me. Where were you when Kobe Bryant told you he wanted to be Michael Jordan? I’ll wait. Despite the numerous times Kobe has publicly said that no one could ever be better than MJ, every time he reaches a milestone or suffers a letdown, people routinely throw good ‘ole number 23 up in his face. It’d be prudent to consider the sources of most of this vitriol, more than likely casual NBA fans that just read headlines and watch highlights. Not to be discounted are the people who are fans of teams who’ve had very little or no success at all winning NBA Championships. The latter of the two really burns my toast because for no better reason than they’ve never experienced the joy of their favorite team winning it all, they just poo-poo winners at every turn.
My biggest argument against the comparisons of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is the fact that they, much like Kobe and Lebron which I will get to, were players of different eras. Kobe Bryant’s first year in the league was the 1996-97 season. An 18-year-old, thirteenth overall pick who only started six games that year, he came into the league as Michael was in the midst of his second run of championships. Having already won four, Michael and the Bulls would go on to win two more in Kobe’s first two seasons in the league. So with titles and MVP’s already on the books, I’m sure Kobe wasn’t even a blip on Michael’s radar in terms of being the next NBA superstar to equal or replace him.
My second argument has more to do with Michael’s impact on the game of basketball itself. For that reason alone, Kobe, Lebron and any other player after them will forever be playing for the number two spot. From selling us shoes (which he still does to this day despite not playing), to hot dogs, underwear and Gatorade, Jordan’s place as a global and international icon in the basketball world is unquestionable and even now, untouched. However, just do not let him run your front office. Why? He drafted Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in 2001. My Michael Jordan the executive rant aside, Michael the player left such a big imprint on the game that everyone after him is doing nothing but walking in his footsteps.
Now, I’d be a fool not to acknowledge Kobe’s blatant and unashamed biting of everything Michael. If this were hip-hop back in the late 80’s and they were both emcees, there would have been a battle because Kobe would be known as what Run DMC called a “Sucka MC.” They played the same position and for the same coach in the same type of offense, so it’s no small wonder that their video highlight packages look so similar. Sure, it’s okay to take him to task for emulating Michael’s game, but it’s irresponsible to not give him credit for coming so close. After all, if you’re going to pattern your game after anyone, why not select the best?
Moving on to the Kobe and Lebron comparisons, I must say that this one is almost as absurd as the Kobe and Michael comparisons. It may sound redundant but, they are two players from completely different eras. Kobe and Lebron’s ages are 33 and 27 respectively, and on the surface you might think that six years is not a big deal but I implore you to think again. By the time Lebron had played his first NBA game, Kobe had been in the league for seven years and won three championships. I’ll give the haters three seconds to mention Shaq’s name...ok. That does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make them peers, equals or even rivals. Add to that the fact that since Lebron has been in the league, Kobe has gone on to win two more championships and what you have is a comparison that should not even exist.
Another reason I wish people would stop comparing the two is that they are cut from two different types of cloth. I know this is going to sound like some serious Lebron-bashing, but I am just stating the even-to-Stevie Wonder-obvious. Lebron came into the league as a machine. The hype surrounding him was much like what we’ve seen here lately from the gridiron with Andrew Luck. He was the can’t-miss prospect and the team that got him would contend for championships in the near future. In many aspects, he did not disappoint, debuting against the Sacramento Kings, he tallied 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. If that’s not exploding onto the scene, I don’t know what is.
Kobe Bryant on the other hand, was drafted behind guys like Vitaly Potapenko and Todd Fuller then traded by the then-Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac. And again I say, traded for Vlade Divac. He averaged a paltry 7.6 points per game in his rookie season which today, has morphed into a career average of 25 points per. The player he has become speaks directly to his work ethic and the hours upon hours of dissecting game film. It also speaks to the fact that unlike Lebron James, who had the entire basketball world handed to him on a silver platter, Kobe worked extremely hard for everything he’s earned. If you can’t respect the work ethic alone, then you don’t believe in the American Dream.
Clearly the two have now flip-flopped positions as Lebron is the runaway best basketball player on the planet and Kobe is the old vet trying to keep the young superstars at bay. And despite what I feel are compelling reasons to stop with the stupid comparisons, they will continue. There’s almost nothing as American as picking sides and nothing I say or do will make it stop, but if you truly want to stand out, recognize and respect both their talents and just be neutral; so long as you’re strong enough to withstand another American pastime, being ridiculed for being a fence-straddler.