Kobe Bryant’s legendary NBA career was defined by Michael Jordan. Although Bryant surely made his own name and carved his own legacy, he was always compared to Jordan throughout his NBA career.
Both played the shooting guard position. They were similarly built ( 6-6 and around 200 pounds ). They both had the same tireless work ethic and play similar games. They both were electrifying high flyers and big time scorers. Even their championship achievements were almost identical.
Because of their similarities, people have always pitted them against each other, asking who is better. Let’s take a look at the numbers that define this comparison and answer that question once and for all.
Kobe vs Jordan Stats Against Each Other
Photo : hoopeduponline.com
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan played against each other a total of 8 times in the NBA, four when MJ was still with the Chicago Bulls and another four when His Airness played for the Washington Wizards. Bryant won five times, going 2-2 against the Bulls and 3-1 against the Wizards.
Scoring-wise, Jordan scored in double digits in seven of those eight games while Bryant recorded double digit scoring in six of eight games. Jordan scored a career low 2 points in a career low 12 minutes of playing time during a 113-93 loss to the Lakers on April 2, 2002. On the other hand, Bryant’s single digit scoring games came during his rookie season in 1996.
Kobe Bryant recorded the only triple double in this head to head match-up. Bryant scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and issued 15 assists during the Lakers’ 103-94 home win over Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards on February 12, 2002 . Neither superstar logged in double digit rebounds or assists during any other game in this head to head encounter.
Here are the per game statistics of these two legends in their head to head games:
|Kobe Bryant||22.8||4.4||3.9||0.9||0.6||46.6%||75.9%||Michael Jordan||24.5||4.3||3.6||1.1||0.5||43.6%||75.0%|
For the full and complete head to head stats, click this link from basketball-reference.com
The numbers are almost identical, really. But it’s important to know though that Michael Jordan was already 33 years 3.6old when Kobe entered the league in 1996 as an 18 year old high school phenom who played second fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles. So it was but logical why Jordan out-pointed Bryant during their first four encounters while the Black Mamba outscored His Airness in their last four meetings.
The Scoring Champion
Michael Jordan was one of the most potent scoring weapons the game of basketball has ever seen. He led the NBA in scoring in 10 of the 15 NBA seasons he played, the most scoring titles won in the history of the NBA. MJ averaged at least 30 points per game in 8 seasons including a career best 37.1 PPG during the 1986-87 season. That’s the 5th highest scoring average ever by an NBA/ABA player for a single season and the only one in the top 6 that isn’t owned by Wilt Chamberlain.
Because of his scoring prowess, Jordan retired as the 3rd leading scorer in NBA history with 32,292 points, finishing behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar ( 38, 387 ) and Karl Malone
( 36,298 ). He finished his career with averages of 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
Jordan came out of a second retirement to play two seasons for the Washington Wizards. Even at an advanced age ( he was already 38 then ), Jordan was still a big scoring threat, averaging 21.1 points per game in two seasons with the Wizards.
A Different Start
While Michael Jordan arrived in Chicago and immediately became the Bulls new savior, Kobe Bryant had a different start to his NBA career. Kobe came off the bench during his first two NBA seasons and played as second option to Shaquille O’Neal until 2004-05 when Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. It was only then when he became the primary offensive option in Los Angeles.
As sidekick to Shaq, Bryant didn’t average at least 20 points per game until his 4th season. He went on to become the NBA scoring champion in 2006 and 2007. His scoring average of 35.40 points per game in 2006 is the 8th highest single season scoring average in the history of the NBA. Byrant’s career averages were 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.
On December 14, 2014, Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan in the NBA’s All-Time scoring list. Bryant scored his 32,293rd point by making a pair of free throws in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bryant played a couple more seasons after passing Jordan. However, injuries and the wear and tear of a long career prevented him from catching up with Karl Malone at the #2 spot. He finished his career with a total of 33,643 points and became the first player in NBA history to play 20 seasons for a single franchise.
Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in seven years. The Bulls achieved that with two three-peats in 1991-93 and 1996-98. In between both title runs, Jordan retired to pursue his dream of playing Major League baseball. He played a season for the Birmingham Barons of the Minor League but never made it to the big league.
MJ returned to the NBA in the latter part of the 1994-95 season. Jordan played just 17 regular season games that year and the Bulls went 14-3 with their star back. However, despite Jordan still playing at a high level, the Bulls were eliminated in 6 games by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
After the setback in 1995, the Bulls rampaged again and won three more NBA titles. Chicago won 72 games during the 1996 season, establishing what was then an all-time record for most wins in a single season ( later broken by the Golden State Warriors in 2016 ). Jordan was a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals. He was also Finals MVP in each championship win.
Phil’s Midas Touch
After Jordan left Chicago, head coach Phil Jackson soon followed. Jackson would go on to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and bring his midas touch to Tinseltown. With Jackson at the helm, Los Angeles won three consecutive championships from 2000-2002. However, it was Shaquille O’Neal who was at the heart of that team. The Big Diesel won the NBA MVP in 2000 and the NBA Finals MVP in all three championship wins.
Bryant was finally handed over the keys to the team when O’Neal was shipped to Miami. The early years were individually outstanding for Bryant as he emerged as one of the NBA’s top scorers, winning the scoring title twice and claiming his only MVP award in 2008. Without O’Neal though, the Lakers missed the playoffs once and were eliminated in the first round twice. The arrival of Pau Gasol would change Bryant’s destiny.
With the signing of Gasol, the Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 2008 but lost to the Boston Celtics. They would win the NBA title a year later, beating the Orlando Magic 4-1 and giving Bryant his first NBA title without O’Neal. In 2010, Bryant and the Lakers exacted revenge on the Celtics by defeating Boston in seven games to win back to back titles and Bryant’s 5th overall.
The similarities between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant don’t end in statistics. Kobe and Jordan almost had the same moves. MJ offered an explanation during a promotional clip for the 2K14 video game in 2013. When asked about playing the NBA greats in a game of one on one during his prime, MJ responded by telling reporters that he would beat anybody, except perhaps Kobe Bryant:
“I don’t think I’d lose other than Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves.”
Bryant didn’t deny Jordan’s copycat claims and made his admission via Twitter:
Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) October 1, 2013
A couple of weeks later, Bryant explained his answer to Power 106 Los Angeles :
“I’m a student of the game, you know, so I know the history; I know where Michael’s moves came from,’ said Bryant about stealing moves. ‘I know they came from David Thompson. I know they came from Dr. J. I know they came from, in particular, Jerry West. So Michael didn’t invent the wheel. He stole a lot of moves from a lot of great players. I just so happened to steal some moves from him, and I just probably stole them better than anybody else has. You have to learn from the greats that came before you, that’s how it should be done.’ […] ‘Most of these guys that I’m playing against grew up watching me. Whether it’s James Harden or Russell Westbrook or the Durants or the LeBrons of the world, you know, they grew up watching me. It’s an honor when I go against these guys and I see some of the similarities in the footwork — it’s good.'”
Watch the eerie similarity between the two NBA legends in making identical moves:
Well, as Bryant himself said, he probably stole MJ’s moves better than anybody else has. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Bryant won five NBA titles, two of them without Shaquille O’Neal. Jordan however, won six and was unbeaten in the Finals. Bryant lost once, during Pau Gasol’s first season in Los Angeles.
Big Brother, Little Brother
While Michael Jordan didn’t say point blank that Kobe would beat him in a game of one on one, his statement that he thinks he’d not lose to anybody except Bryant is a compliment to the greatness of the Black Mamba.
In fact, when Jordan was asked who the better player between Kobe and LeBron James is, Jordan gave a simple answer: Five beats three, in obvious reference to Bryant’s five rings and James’ three title wins.
During Bryant’s final game against Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, MJ gave a video message to the retiring Bryant, even calling Kobe ‘little brother’:
"Kobe, MJ. I'm sorry I couldn't be there tonight,Jordan began his message.
I just want to congratulate you on an unbelievable career. I think, when I look back, and the first time we actually played against each other, and the competitive drive that I saw within your eyes ... is very invigorating. And I'm very happy to leave you this message to say how much we are very proud of what you've accomplished over the years."
"Most people don't realize you were drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, so that connects us with you. I've always been like a big brother to you, [and you're] like a little brother. We communicate all the time. I just want to say congratulations. Your next step in your next career is going to be something that I'm pretty sure you're going to have to figure out. From a competitive standpoint, I'm pretty sure you're just like me. You're going to have to find other ways to utilize that competitive drive.
"But I want to congratulate you and Vanessa and the girls. You've been a big help to the game of basketball. You've helped the NBA. You've helped promote it. I'm pretty sure you've got a lot of fans all over the world. I am a big fan. I still love watching you play. I'm very, very happy for you and what you've accomplished within the game. And I look forward to seeing what you do next.
"If you ever need me, you know my number. Let's stay in touch. I wish you the best, and have a great game tonight -- not too good of a game. But I want you to stay healthy. As I said a couple weeks ago, this is your last year. Just have fun. Take it a day at a time. Enjoy it. And I look forward to seeing what you do after this. Take care. Good luck."
Jordan’s retirement message summed it all. Kobe and Jordan were fierce competitors inside the basketball court. But outside it, they are like brothers who look after each other. There is no competition between them, really. As for who is better tough, the numbers don’t lie. Michael Jordan beats Kobe Bryant’s production.
Bryant only overtook Jordan in the NBA’s all-time scoring list because of his longevity. Other than that, the stats point to Michael Jordan as having the better NBA career. In terms of championships, MJ also beats Kobe and he does so in other individual awards as well. So in terms of stats and achievements, it’s a no-contest really. But if there is such thing as the closest player to Michael Jordan, it’s Kobe Bryant.
Subscribe to Sport.ONE
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox