The title of being “the greatest basketball player ever” is bigger than the game of basketball. It involves a certain je ne sais quoi known as: it.
Michael Jordan will be the greatest basketball player ever for a long time. He has it. There is not a current player who will be able to challenge the throne. With NBA players being friendlier to each other, softer defensive rules to promote higher scoring games, and more lucrative contracts without having to prove your worth first, the days of cutthroat competitors like Magic, Bird, and Michael are done. Thanks to Lebron James, we were all witnesses of this last summer. Non-knowledgeable basketball fans argue if Kobe Bean Bryant wins six rings, he will be equal to MJ. These are the people you need to avoid. If you are forced to have a conversation with them, discuss the weather and nothing else. From a basketball standpoint, MJ will be #1 for a long time. It’s not even close. I am here to argue the pop culture aspect, simply because of NBA2K11. This represent a new generation of fans who were too young to see MJ, yet revere him as the greatest ever. I want to explain why MJ is held in this regard, and why Kobe will never be “that guy.” Intro this debate PTI style.
Kornheiser: "Ok Wilbon, important question here, Kobe Bryant is gunning for his sixth ring. If he gets his sixth, he will pass Magic as the winningest Laker of all time, and tie Michael Jordan with six rings. Wilbon you grew up in Chicago, and have spent a lot of time with both of these guys...does this move Kobe up the NBA echelon to tie Jordan?
Wilbon: " Well Tone, there is no question it moves him up the NBA chain. But with Jordan, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! Jordan’s list of accomplishments far outweigh Kobe’s. Not to mention he told the police Shaq cheats on his wife.
Kornheiser: "But he scored 81 points in a game!!! Something your boy Jordan’s never done.”
Wilbon: "Tony, he's a snitch"
Kornheiser: "I don't see how being a snitch affects his ability to score 81 points, win five titles, and be a twelve time All-Star."
Wilbon: "Tone, he's a snitch! People don’t care that Charles Barkley never won a ring. They care about him because he’s charismatic and likeable! But for Kobe to be with MJ, it’s bigger than basketball. There’s a cool factor involved, and Kobe, as good of a basketball player as he is, just doesn’t have it."
Kornheiser: "Him talking to the police about Shaq shouldn’t be held against him when discussing BASKETBALL. In his later years, Larry Bird was quite ornery. I’m just saying…[bell rings] Let’s go to the big finish… "
In this fictional argument, both men made good points. What someone does off the court should not be the sole influence on your opinion of the basketball player. However, this argument would hold more weight if this were the 1950’s; The NBA is global now. Yao Ming has more votes than any center in the Western Conference thanks to a billion Chinese people. A player’s responsibilities involve being marketable, making commercials, and generally being perceived as a brand. Some choose to embrace this task (Lebron); others shy away from it (Tim Duncan). Neither choice is right nor wrong, it’s just a difference in personality.
Herein lies the problem with Kobe: his personality. Bean is not a cool guy. He is an incredible basketball player… one the ten greatest basketball players of all-time…but he’s just not cool. The timeline of Bean’s uncoolness.
- Taking Brandy to the prom. (Monica was/is better looking, and since Kobe was looking for street cred, Monica would have been the better choice.)
- Imitating Michael Jordan’s mannerisms
- His rap career
- The afro
- His corny Adidas logo and shoes.
- Arguing with Shaq
- The rape case in Eagle, Colorado
- Telling the police he should have paid off Kate Faber like Shaq does when he cheats on Shaunie. (He obviously never learned the Robert De Niro lesson in Goodfellas. To quote De Niro: You took your first pinch like a man, and you learned the two greatest things in life: never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut. Kobe skipped this scene.)
- Getting those goofy tattoos.
- Arguing with Karl Malone after Kobe’s wife said Karl tried to talk to her. (Karl came up to me and said he was hunting for little Mexican girls…if I could redo my high school yearbook quote, it would be “hunting little Mexican girls”)
- Getting Shaq and Phil Jackson out of LA. (This is when Kobe hate was at an all-time high.)
- The black mamba nickname. (It sounds like a porno title.)
- The Taliban pictures.
From a basketball standpoint, Kobe is the perfect imitation of Michael Jordan. He’s a great scorer, extremely competitive, lock down defender, and the most feared player with two minutes left in the game. But there is a big difference between imitation and original.
- MJ has a competitive disorder. If you slighted him, he’d destroy you. It was like feeding a lion raw meat. The LaBradford Smith game. The Van Gundy “MJ’s a con-artist” game. The George Karl game. Clyde Drexler 1992. Pistons 1991. 1996 MJ. Teams instructed players to not talk to MJ during the game, after the game, and during the off-season. Players were told not to look him in the eye; he’d use any edge he could find. Kobe doesn’t strike fear into opponents in this same manner.
- MJ was the perfect pitchmen. Women wanted to be with Mike, men wanted to be like Mike. Not Kobe. People, especially black men, have always looked at Kobe Bryant as corny.
- Nike was built around MJ. Aside from maybe Tiger Woods, he remains the number one priority with Nike. He hasn’t played an NBA game in almost ten years. Kobe got dropped from Nike during his scandal. This wouldn’t have happened to MJ.
- Players loved and feared MJ. Kobe was the black sheep in the NBA after the rape scandal. At that time, you were either Team Shaq or Team Kobe. Shaq won.
- MJ has legendary shoes and commercials. Kobe does not. Nobody cared about his Adidas, his sparkly Huaraches, or low-top basketball sneakers.
From a basketball perspective, it’s not even close. From a pop culture standpoint, the distance is even further. I could list numerous MJ stories about him crushing opponents, taking their will, and running them out of the league (Dennis Hopson, Pete Myers). Kobe struggled to find his identity. The moves he made constantly screamed for acceptance. MJ always knew who he was, a basketball player. He played his game, and everything else fell into place. This is why Kobe will always be number two to MJ’s number one. MJ was Michael Corleone; Kobe is Sonny. Lebron is Fredo, a bitch.
Speaking of being a bitch…..Jay Cutler, what the fuck?