Look the discussion is patently ridiculous. It also annoys me a bit that Bulls fans are so insecure that they get drawn into this talking heads Kobe vs Michael thing. It's hard for me to believe any serious basketball analyst in the world believes in his heart of hearts that they're taking Kobe over Jordan.
Rings as best player on his team: Jordan
Virtually every statistical measure: Jordan
Quality of supporting cast: Jordan (had weaker casts and had to do more)
MVPs or Finals MVPs or whatever other awards: Jordan
Objectively, subjectively, however you want to look at it Jordan wins, but as embarrassing as it is for Bulls fans to honor this debate, it's an even bigger disservice to Kobe who then somehow looks like a loser for not measuring up to the dude whom no one else measures up to either.
So it got me to thinking, where do you really place Kobe in terms of all the greats? Bill Simmons had him 15th a year ago in his book. I believe there was a footnote in it about him possibly moving up with another title or that he would move him up higher since he won the 08/09 title but the final list was published when he wrote it.
Now, Simmons has a number of players ranked ahead of Kobe that I wasn't privileged enough to watch, so I'm not going to comment on them. Out of the players I've seen, the ones that rank up there with Kobe for discussions sake are:
Hakeem, Duncan, Magic, Bird, Shaq, and Kareem (no particularly order). Jordan (as discussed previously) is easily ahead, and not worth drawing into this debate.
So where does Kobe fit against these guys?
I think you have to put him behind Duncan who won a ring 4x as the best player on his team, and his best supporting cast members have been Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the ghost of David Robinson. I'm taking Pau Gasol as a better player than any of those guys, so he has two additional rings as best player, and did it with a weaker group.
I have to take Kareem over him too because Kareem was simply impossible to stop and played forever. He had more rings as well, and was an MVP of the league 5 times. His statistics impress me more as do his awards and rings.
I'll take him over Hakeem even though Hakeem won with weaker casts, his championships almost get an asterisk since Jordan was retired at the time. However, to his credit, he did dominate Shaq in the finals one year.
That leaves Shaq, Bird, and Magic left.
I'm on the fence with all three of those guys. I know many will want to take Bird/Magic easily, but both of those guys had multiple all-star teammates. Their casts were way better than what Kobe had.
Kobe also has more rings than Bird, and the same number as Magic though you can argue both have 3 Finals MVPs vs Kobe's 2. When it comes to cold blooded killerness, I think Kobe wins this battle though maybe Bird is right there. Kobe beats either guy by a considerable margin on the defensive end, and he was a better scorer than Magic in the clutch.
Maybe my memory has just faded too much, but as likable as Johnson is, I just think having Kobe on my team would help more than Magic when they're both in their primes. The thing is, without phenomenal teammates, I trust Kobe to be able to do it by himself more than I trust Magic. Ultimately, I want my best player to also be the best scorer on the court, and I don't think Magic qualified there.
Bird, I'm still a bit torn on, but I think I'm leaning towards Kobe there too. I think Kobe gives you enough extra on defense to compensate for Bird's superior shooting.
As for Shaq, this one might be the most meaningful to Kobe, and I'm sure he feels he's passed Shaq now that he's won more rings. Shaq in his prime was something like we may never see again. The way he dominated games offensively was simply incredible and rivaled Jordan.
The problem was he didn't have the killer instinct to stay in premier shape, and he couldn't knock down free throws to play a huge clutch role at the end of games. Shaq's more dominant, Kobe's more of a cold blooded killer.
I still have to lean towards Shaq though simply because I could find another set of good guards easier than I could find another center, but I think it's a tougher call.
So where do we go with this rambling? Of the greats I've seen, I guess I've got something like:
2-4: Duncan, Kareem, Shaq
5-7: Kobe, Bird, Magic