Maybe Kobe is kinda like Mike
For the millions of transplants who arrive in Los Angeles from
points sane, the nutty City of Angels has lots of surprises in
store for them.
Motorists are regularly cited for not yielding to
pedestrians. I mean, really yielding, like, until they are safely
up on the curb. And pedestrians get ticketed for not crossing at
crosswalks. It’s a far cry from the East Coast free-for-all,
where drivers and hoofers manage to co-exist without the city
dipping its beak every 45 feet.
Though the sun shines roughly 330 days a year, there is a
tanning salon in every strip mall and a strip mall on every corner.
A new arrival in L.A. will be asked questions he’s
never pondered before, like, “What year gas do you
use?” Huh? “You know, 87, 89 or 91?”
If you see lilacs somewhere in a house, it means the occupant
believes that is her “prosperity corner.”
There’s a reason they call it La La Land.
But of all the head-snapping, whiplash-inducing revelations
that have greeted me since I made the Southland my home, none made
me yell at my car radio as loudly as Laker fans’ insistence
on comparing Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan.
It started in earnest a couple of years ago. I found the
comparison preposterous, downright embarrassing.
It was NBA blasphemy, a violation of hoop’s first
commandment: You shall have no other basketball gods before M.J.
Then Kobe won his first MVP. Then he won a Gold Medal. Then
he won a title as The Man.
Now, with each absurd buzzer-beater, Kobe’s legend
grows and the gap between him and Jordan — once so vast
Is Kobe Bryant as good as Michael Jordan?
I’m not ready to say that, but I am willing to stop
yelling at my radio when somebody else does.
Jordan won five MVPs (and was robbed on at least two other
occasions) and six titles as the best player on his team. When the
2005-06 season began, Kobe had not accomplished either feat so much
as once. He was the sidekick during Shaquille O’Neal’s
three-year title run in L.A. and had never finished higher than
third in the MVP voting.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Lakers’
pedestrian 45-37 record that season. Kobe Bryant went off.
Unleashing the full package — an assortment of unstoppable
turnarounds, lefty finishes in traffic, 131more three-point
attempts than he had put up in any other season, etc. —
Bryant won his first scoring title with a 35.4 points per game
It was the highest average for an NBA scoring champion since,
yup, Michael Jordan rang up his 37.1 ppg in 1986-87.
On Dec. 20, 2005 Kobe did something that had never been done
in the shot clock era: he outscored the Dallas Mavericks 62-61
through three quarters. A month later he dropped 81 on the Toronto
Raptors, a total achieved by only one other player, the prodigious
Anyone watching these performances would understandably find
it hard to believe that there had ever been a better perimeter
offensive player in NBA history.
And so the conversation began. The following year Kobe won
his second scoring title and joined Chamberlain as the only players
in NBA history to score 50 points in four straight games.
It’s one thing to post Jordanesque numbers, but nobody is
supposed to approach Wilt.
Still, as the 2007-08 season began, Kobe still hadn’t
been an MVP or the undisputed leader of a champ.
Done and done. He won the MVP trophy with a 28.3 ppg/6.3
rpg/5.4 apg monster of a season in 2008, then led the Lakers to the
title as the Finals MVP in 2009, squeezing a Gold Medal run in
Beijing in between.
A week ago I asked John Salley, who had played with both, to
weigh in on the comparison, fully expecting him to say,
“There never has been and there never will be another
But Salley viewed it as a legitimate debate, pointing out
Kobe’s relative youth (31) and the fact that he probably has
multiple championships ahead of him.
No impartial observer watching the NBA this season could
honestly think any team other than the Lakers will be lifting that
trophy in June.
The Lakers beat the Magic in five games in the Finals last
season without Andrew Bynum. The 22-year-old 7-footer is averaging
16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds a game this season and is fifth in the
NBA in field-goal percentage (.574). When Pau Gasol missed the
first three weeks of the season, Bynum averaged 20 and 12.
Since Gasol (17.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg) came back, the Lakers are
Of course, they could easily be 10-3 in those 13 games save
for the heroics of the Kobester. Two weeks ago he beat the Heat
with a 3-pointer at the buzzer (OK, he banked it), and on Wednesday
he single-handedly overcame a six-point deficit with 1:20 left in
OT to beat the Bucks on yet another contested buzzer-beater.
Kobe’s ability to make impossible shots at the buzzer
is positively freakish. If he gets the ball airborne with the game
on the line, everyone in the building thinks it’s going in.
In that one Nike commercial Jordan admitted to missing 26
game-winning shots. Kobe may have missed as many, but it sure seems
like he buries every one.
If — let’s face it, when — the Lakers go
back-to-back this season, that will give Kobe five titles, one shy
of Jordan. If he adds another selection to the All-NBA Defensive
First Team, it will be his eighth, again one shy of Jordan. With
LeBron James and Dwight Howard in their primes, Kobe won’t
match Jordan’s five MVPs, but he was the best player in the
league as we passed the quarter pole this season.
Kobe is 31. He has a whole lot of basketball ahead of him.
Michael won three titles after he turned 33.
Those sun-baked Los Angeles sports fans may have begun this
debate prematurely, but — and I can’t believe I’m
saying this — Kobe Bryant looks unstoppable in his quest to
Maybe I need to revisit that whole feng shui thing too.