Jordan and Kobe: Not Even Close

Matt Yglesias takes ESPN’s Bill Simmons to task for arguing that Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan “might compare statistically and stylistically, but Jordan could command a room of 10 people or 20,000 and get the exact same reaction: Every set of eyes trained on him for as long as he was there. His personality, his charisma, his aura, his passion … indescribable. Like nothing I have ever seen.”

The reason “we’re never seeing another Jordan” is precisely because they don’t compare statistically. It’s truly not even close, and I really don’t understand why people sometimes say things like this. When Kobe Bryant was 21, he put up 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Jordan got 6.5 rebounds, offered 5.9 assists, and scored 28.2 points. And not because he was shooting more, because he was shooting better with a TS% of .592 to Kobe’s .546. In Kobe’s most efficient scoring season, he put up a .580—worse than Jordan’s rookie year. Jordan did better than that in six different seasons, and maxed out at .614 in the 1988-89 season. In Kobe’s most prolific scoring season he got 31.1 points, in Jordan’s most prolific season he got 33.4 points per game. Jordan consistently snagged more rebounds and dished out more assists. And he did it all before they changed the rules to make things easier for guards!

I’d quibble only slightly:  As Matt has just demonstrated, Jordan and Bryant do compare statistically; it’s just that said comparison reveals that Jordan was a whole lot better.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Drew says:

    As one who watched the Baby Bulls grow up to be THE Bulls, I have a problem with this. They both miss the defining point. Yes, Kobe and Michael were/are each ace offensive players, each with an assassin’s heart in the clutch, and relative talents.

    But Kobe isn’t even close to the defensive presence and motivator/leader Michael was. Not even close. After Jordan grew up and trusted Phil Jackson and his scheme, the Bulls basically became unstoppable. They surrounded the Jordan/Pippen nexus with whatever they needed. And Jordan filled in any shortfalls. And at times he willed them to victory. Kobe can’t do that.

    Michael Jordan was simply the most complete competitor I have witnessed in any sport in my lifetime.

    And that is quite a concession from someone who believes that the closest second is Jack Nicklaus.

  2. kth says:

    I don’t know, the league is at least as competitive now as it was in the 90s, and Kobe’s supporting cast is no better than MJ’s was. So if–if–Kobe picks up a couple more rings without another HOFer added to the cast, then the only things that put the Jordan comparison out of reach are the latter’s Mystique and Aura, which Bryant undoubtedly can never hope to match.

  3. Dali Vision says:

    People will always compare Kobe and Jordan. I think there is no comparison, but with all the stats presented, why is it that Kobe did not get the MVP? Maybe not this year and yes he got it last year, but what about the previous three years? He will never win another MVP, why do I state that? Because all sports writers and other commentators look at the personality and not at the fundamentals of basketball. Kobe’s personality is not desirable hence; the need to come up with other criteria to take away from the skills that he displays game after game. They say that “making teammates better” is the essential component of an MVP. They say Kobe needs to show us a smiling face. They say those things to take away from the fact that Kobe is the best in basketball but his personality is lacking and he is not like Jordan, Lebron, Chris Paul, or even Dwight Howard.

    If one would look at Kobe during any game, one can see the “drive” and the “determination” that encompasses his being while on the court and that the smiling face will not be displayed because he is driven and determined to win. His skills are the best in the NBA without question, but I will agree that his personality is not, hence he will never win another MVP nor will he ever top Jordan by any comparison.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    Michael Jordan was simply the most complete competitor I have witnessed in any sport in my lifetime.

    And that is quite a concession from someone who believes that the closest second is Jack Nicklaus.

    I don’t know, I’d have to say Michael Phelps did some amazing stuff. He had a near perfect Olympics in Beijing, and in fact, if a person is to “beat him” they’d have to have a perfect Olympics: 8 Gold Medals/8 World Records. And he set records with time improvements you usually see in 9 – 12 years old swimmers*. I’m thinking that Phelp’s performance at the 2008 Olympics will stand for a very long time. And he isn’t done. He plans on going to the next Olympics and swim events he hasn’t normally swam in the past such as the 100 and 200 back stroke. And his turns are what does it. Nobody can beat him at his best events unless they can beat him in the turns. Simply amazing. He has totally smashed 200M and 400M freestyle records that belonged to Ian Thorpe who was considered the best freestylist ever.

    But, comparing athletes across sports is very difficult. It is probably fair to say that guys like Jordan, Phelps, etc. come along very infrequently, and if you are fan of a sport that gets an athlete in that calibre then you are lucky that you get to see them in action vs. hearing about it decades later.

    *Usually top level swimmers will see improvements in the tenth of seconds range. Younger swimmers since they change so fast (both physically and mentally) and because their technique improves quite a bit you see big time drops of 2, 3, 4, even 5 and 6 second time drops.

  5. anjin-san says:

    As good as Bryant is, he is simply not in Jordan’s class. Thats no insult, because who is? The only athlete I compare to Jordan is Joe Montana.

  6. MM says:


    The issue is that Kobe doesn’t make his teammates better. He might glower like Jordan, but he can’t will a game to bend his way the way Jordan could. When Jordan would get ugly with his teammates it was all about making them better. Kobe gets ugly with his teammates just because he can. Is Gasol a better player than he was 2 years ago? Is Odom?

    Plus, think of the Jordan Rules. There were teams who were literally staking their entire payoff hope on slowing Jordan down. Teams don’t do that with Kobe. Sure they might double team him, but they don’t truly fear him the way that teams feared Jordan.

    They will give him his 40 and worry about the rest of the team. The Nuggets were a couple of bad plays away from letting Kobe watch the finals on TV. Again.

  7. DL says:

    I’m not a jock nor a super fan -I’ll take Jordan on the character issue anyday.

  8. DL says:

    I’m not a jock nor a super fan -I’ll take Jordan on the character issue anyday.

  9. Drew says:

    “But, comparing athletes across sports is very difficult. It is probably fair to say that guys like Jordan, Phelps, etc. come along very infrequently………..”

    Yes, comparing is almost a fool’s errand. I admit up front to a bias. I never made a living as a professional athlete, but I played competitively in golf (still do), basketball and baseball to a reasonably high level. Golf is the hardest. Hands down.

    I will tell you unequivocally (IMHO) the hardest thing to do in a competitive setting is hit and putt a golf ball. In basketball you get to move, and the entire back and forth nature gives you no time to ponder. Its basically instinctive and in rhythm, based upon prior preparation. But every stroke in golf is done from a standing start. And under pressure – and with the margin for error being so tiny – it is incredibly difficult to command mind and body to perform. Swimming? Phelps was simply fabulous. However, its sort of ready, set, bonzai!!!! Do that in golf and you are dead.

    So why did I put Jordan ahead of Nicklaus?

    He’s simply that good. Once he broke through and took over the NBA mantle, he never lost. Yes, when he returned from retirement and had 30 days until the playoffs, the Magic beat him. That’s a one-off.

    But nobody beat Jordan in six tries at the ring.

    Count’m: Lakers, Trailblazers, Suns……..Supersonics, Jazz, Jazz.

    Magic and Company, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and his crew….Carl Malone, John Stockton…..uh,uh. Nope.

    Yes, they rotated a number of players in and out. And yes the core was always Jordan/Pippen. But they never lost.

    And there was never a game 7. Ever.