Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant's names will always be intertwined. Kobe came after MJ as the heir apparent to the GOAT's throne, and the similarities between them are more numerous than can be counted. Jordan himself guided a young Bryant, and the two were close till Kobe's tragic passing in 2020.
But during Kobe's career and for a while after, the comparisons between the two were endless, with it being hard to even differentiate Kobe's style from Michael's early in his career. Especially after Bryant clinched his 5th championship with the Lakers, there was a lot of talk about who was the better player between the two. While most fans still acknowledge Michael Jordan as the GOAT, some believe Kobe was able to at least reach the same tier as his idol.
Gary Payton, someone that knew a thing or two about being a great player and someone who played against both Jordan and Kobe while also playing alongside Kobe later in his career, once gave his verdict on who was the better all-around player among the two:
“Well, Jay to me, it’s Michael Jordan (the better scorer). Cuz Michael Jordan, as you see, he doesn’t settle for the jumper when he gets it. He could settle and just raise up, but he doesn’t. What he does is, he goes to his left, he penetrates and spins and then wide-open finger-roll layup… He is always within 15 feet and he took shots like that."
"Kobe doesn’t do that. Kobe takes jump shots, three-pointers a lot. And he takes a lot of difficult shots. Michael Jordan made it real easy for himself by not taking tough shots… He was very effective in those 15 feet.”
"They both played hard. Michael Jordan, when he was down with the flu, he went through it, Kobe is always like that. Whatever he goes through, he always gets through it. I can’t give no edge to both of these guys, I think both of them are great competitors."
“I think Michael Jordan is (the better player). I think Michael Jordan was the type of guy, he was feisty like Kobe was, but he wasn’t that feisty. When it was time and he knew they were going to double him, he would kick it out. He did it to Kerr, he did it to Paxson, he did it to Pippen. He did things like that. He trusted in his player a little bit more. And that’s why I think he’s an all-around basketball player."
"He got rebounds when he needed to, he got assists when he needed to, and that’s why he got 6 championships. He trusted in his teammates and that’s why I think he’s the better all-around basketball player.”
This was quite the analysis from Payton and one that shows just how small and marginal the differences are between the truly elite players in NBA history. And what matters most, in the end, is that both men inspired the other and the league was better for it, treating fans to basketball at the very highest level without ever giving up.