One of the hottest topics of the past two decades has been which player came closest to Michael Jordan. MJ is widely regarded as the greatest player in NBA history, and many claim that he is the single greatest athlete to ever play a professional sport. It is hard to argue this, especially when considering he has 6 NBA titles with 6 Finals MVPs without a single loss in the NBA Finals.
Jordan also holds a multitude of extraordinary achievements including being a part of a 72-win team, being a part of two three-peats, and owning 10 scoring titles. Make no mistake: Jordan was the man.
But two NBA players in recent history have consistently drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan. One is the legendary Kobe Bryant, who played his entire career with the Lakers, and the other is LeBron James who is still arguably the best player in the game today.
Who came closest to Michael? Do Kobe's 5 rings overcome LeBron's 3? Or does LeBron James have the stats to back up his case?
It's time to find out.
Championships: Kobe Bryant (5), LeBron James (3)
Clearly, Bryant has always had the case of being a better winner than LeBron James. Even though Bryant played with a very dominant Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe was often 1A to Shaq's 1. They were equally as dominant during their final two championships together, and there is no way the Lakers would have won without a guy like Kobe Bryant. His clutch shot-making and scoring ability helped the Lakers win a three-peat as a Western Conference powerhouse.
Kobe later won two titles in a row after the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, and captured two straight Finals MVP Awards. Clearly, all Kobe needed was an All-Star big man who can help out in the paint and provide inside scoring since Kobe played mostly on the perimeter. His five rings came closest to Jordan's six.
Finals MVP: LeBron James (3), Kobe Bryant (2)
Even though Bryant won more rings than James, James has more Finals MVPs. LeBron was the most dominant player during each of his Finals runs, and he would come out on top for the Finals MVP Award even when playing with the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.
James seems to have a cyclical career, one that involves having a very weak team with no help and then finding himself on a team with an extraordinary amount of help. Almost all credit goes to LeBron for taking his career into his own hands and building teams suited to his playing style.
While neither player really comes close, LeBron's three Finals MVP Awards come closest to Jordan's six.
MVP: LeBron James (4), Kobe Bryant (1)
LeBron James is such a beast, and he is deserving of every MVP Award he won in his career. In fact, he should have won more. His eye-popping numbers and dominance in the regular season is something legendary, and many claims he is the best regular-season performer of all time. James always seems to win a ton of games no matter what team he plays for, and that is due to his impact on the floor. Due to his size and ability, James is possibly the most complete player in NBA history.
On the other end, Kobe Bryant was a slender 6'6" shooting guard who could singlehandedly control a game with his offense and perimeter defense. The fact that he only won one MVP Award is a travesty, and without a doubt, he should have two at the very least (sorry Steve Nash).
Kobe also found himself on some very poor teams in his career but he would have taken his five rings over more MVPs any day.
LeBron James's four MVP Awards come closest to Michael Jordan's five.
Scoring Titles: Kobe Bryant (2), LeBron James (1)
Very surprisingly, Bryant only won two scoring titles in his career. While he also came second to Kevin Durant by 0.1 PPG in 2012, Bryant doesn't have close to Jordan's 10 scoring titles. Yet, many regard Bryant as the best offensive player since MJ. Why is that the case?
Well, basketball is not played purely on paper. While stats certainly don't lie, they never tell the whole story. Bryant could score the ball in almost every way imaginable, and it was his scoring that led him to be regarded as one of the best ever. His footwork, dribbling, shooting, and athleticism have him the entire package of scoring the ball. Not to mention, Bryant probably is the best one on one player in NBA history not named Michael Jordan.
It is Bryant's scoring that gives him the most leverage in coming close to Michael Jordan.
All-NBA First Team: LeBron James (12), Kobe Bryant (11)
LeBron James beat out Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone for having the most All-NBA 1st Team selections in NBA history. This is probably one of his greatest achievements, as this is clearly the hallmark of a great player who knows how to take care of his body.
James is probably the second greatest player in NBA history in terms of having longevity, only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and this achievement makes this clear. James has arguably been the best player in the world since 2012, since he won his first championship, and no one has come remotely close. As great as Kevin Durant and even Stephen Curry have been, they pale in comparison to what LeBron James has meant to the NBA in this decade.
Both James and Bryant have beaten Michael Jordan in All-NBA 1st Team selections and that is quite incredible on behalf of both superstars.
All-Defensive First Team: Kobe Bryant (9), LeBron James (5)
Kobe Bryant ties Michael Jordan, and Kevin Garnett, with the most All-Defensive First Team selections. James is quite far behind with 6, and it is very likely he won't catch up.
Bryant was a phenomenal defender in his prime, being able to stick with the best ball handlers in the game and use his intense desire to stop the ball. It was Kobe's bulldog mentality that gave him the edge on defense. He could move his feet well, poke the ball away for steals (averaged 1.4 SPG for his career), and stick someone 82-feet if necessary.
While either player will come close to Jordan's defensive ability, since Jordan won a DPOY Award, Bryant came closest.
All-Star Games: Kobe Bryant (18), LeBron James (16)
In quite incredible achievements, both Bryant and James surpassed Michael Jordan's 14 All-Star Appearances.
Bryant has the edge over LeBron, making an unbelievable 18 All-Star appearances during a 20-year career with the Lakers. Bryant simply held it down as the best guard in the NBA since Michael Jordan and it seems it will remain that way for the rest of NBA history. His dedication to greatness, excellence in his craft, and sheer will of becoming the best player of all time fueled his success.
James is close by with 16, and only time Al tell if he will be able to eclipse Bryant's record of 18. At the very least, James should be able to tie up Bryant. But for now, Bryant has the edge with an amazing 18 All-Star appearances.
Career PPG: LeBron James (27.1), Kobe Bryant (25.0)
LeBron James has a higher scoring average than Kobe Bryant. This is surprising at first glance, but not when you dig into the facts. Firstly, James has always been a great scorer. His size and athleticism give him the ability to attack and finish at the rim whenever he wants. Being so close to the basket gives him a smoother way of putting points on the board which all goes to his credit.
Also, Bryant was basically a benchwarmer for his first three years of his career. That certainly doesn't help the PPG average.
Overall, neither player comes close to Jordan's 30.1 PPG average. Jordan was the man, and we know that, but LeBron comes closer to Jordan's scoring average statistically.
It's no doubt that Kobe Bryant played almost identical to Michael Jordan. He took Michaels's fadeaway jumper and ramped it up to where he could make it when guarded by two or three defenders. Kobe also studied Michael's footwork, and probably took it to the next level as well. Kobe might have the best footwork, other than Hakeem Olajuwon, in NBA history. His ability to pump fake, use his pivot foot, and finish tough shots was something enjoyable to watch and particularly effective.
In many ways, Kobe seemed to have ramped up what Michael did offensively and surpass it. But when it comes to the details of the game, Michael was a bit better. He was more efficient than Bryant, shooting a career 49.7% FG compared to 44.7%. Jordan would often take and make better shots, while Kobe loved to settle for tough contested jump shots. At the end of the day, it's just two points and Michael was better at getting them with less effort. Not to mention, Michael was better defensively. He always had the right hand in the passing lane, the right foot in the right place playing defense, and mastered the art of shutting down a player.
Nonetheless, Bryant came closest to Michael in terms of playing style and attitude on the floor. They both wanted to be the best ever and will go down as the two best shooting guards the game has ever seen.
As great as LeBron James has been, especially in the past decade, Kobe Bryant came closest to the great Michael Jordan. Kobe played almost identical to Jordan, including an incredible fadeaway jumper as the signature move. James also developed a fadeaway jumper but pales in comparison to both Jordan's and Kobe's in terms of effectiveness.
Kobe could shoot like Michael from mid-range, and also played with a natural clutch gene. It took LeBron James many years to develop a killer instinct, whereas both Jordan and Kobe were born with it. Kobe and MJ always wanted to take and make the biggest shots during the game, while LeBron preferred to pass it over to his teammates including Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.
Most importantly, Kobe's 5 rings come closest to Jordan's 6. James has only managed to win 3 rings during his career and has yet to show enough evidence that he can win his 4th or even 5th ring. Kobe's clutch shooting, signature fadeaway jumper, killer instinct, and 5 rings make him come closest to Michael Jordan.