Yes, I'm looking at you Kobe Bryant. I'm looking at you LeBron James. It's not your fault, the media screwed you both on this by bringing it up all the time, but in case there's any doubt, let me clear it up for you. You may be great, but you are no Michael Jordan.
For whatever reason the media loves to dust off the "is this guy better than Michael Jordan" talk every couple years with some guy who's clearly not better than Jordan. There's only two men who can rightly be compared to Michael Jordan. Wilt Chamberlain (the domineer of raw stats) and Bill Russell (the domineer of wins). They both lose, but you at least have some type of argument for either guy.
Before we begin, let me address the argument that because we're having a conversation about this that somehow it validates the idea. I had a conversation yesterday with my five year old where she told me I no longer need to go to work. She said she called my boss and made sure it's okay, and that he understands that she misses me too much. I asked what his name was, and she replied "barbecue".
Having a conversation doesn't validate in any way the contents of the conversation. If you've ever spoken with a moron (I assume we've all done that at some point) then I doubt you feel their thoughts were validated merely by being spoken outloud. The media are simply morons with this. Except they're not actually morons, they're shameless self-promoters trying to boost their ratings by attempting to prop up the players playing presently on their networks.
There are many ways to sum up this argument, and what makes it so simple is that Jordan wins all of them. That's why the case of comparing Kobe or LeBron is so absurd. Neither guy wins any argument against Jordan.
It'd be easy to close the book on where these guys are right now. There are so many open and shut ways to do so. I could say look at the rings. Look at the Finals MVPs. Look at the stats. Look at the league MVPs, defensive MVPs, any statistical or subjective metric etc... Those would all fairly simply prove the point Jordan is the best to ever play the game, and any rationale person would choose Jordan after hearing those arguments.
However, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to take it a step farther. I'm going to show you that no reasonable extrapolation of the rest of their career for Kobe or LeBron can ever put them ahead of Jordan regardless of how many rings they win from here on out.
That's right. If Kobe wins the championship the next three seasons or LeBron rattles off eight straight, neither guy is better than Jordan. They just aren't, and the rings if they come (which they probably won't in enough volume for either guy to pass MJ anyway) then it still won't matter. Jordan will still be the best ever.
So let's begin with fictional Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant has five rings right now, let's say the Lakers win three more rings to finish with eight, can he be viewed as greater than Jordan due to the rings?
Wait for it, because I'm about to go Robert Horry on your ass. Robert Horry was a key contributor for teams that won seven rings. No one considers Horry better than Jordan, Kobe, or heck, Karl Malone. Why? He wasn't the best player on any of those teams. Winning a ring is an accomplishment, but when weighing rings against the greats, it matters who you were in the pecking order when you won it.
Kobe Bryant won three rings as the second banana. Three more championships gives him at most five finals MVPs, and when
looking at titles, you don't get credit for the ones you Robert Horry
your way into as anything less than the best player on the team. If Scottie won a ring in Houston or wasn't robbed by the referees in Portland, then would he be better than Michael? 7 rings, key player on all seven teams? No. It'd be absurd.
Of his two finals MVPs, the second was almost by default, because he didn't really play that great in the finals in 2010. In fact, Pau Gasol had a higher PER than Kobe Bryant in the regular season in 2010. They have almost turned into a 1a / 1b type of option in LA similar to Kobe/Shaq. In fact, statistically, Pau has more of a case to being the Lakers best player last season than Kobe ever had over Shaq.
The problem for Bryant is that this isn't going to get better as he ages. In fact, it's highly likely that if the Lakers do win three more rings (an event I consider to have a near zero probability) that Bryant will not be the finals MVP three more times anyway.
On top of that, the statistical argument is too strong against Bryant. The amount of time in the NBA you could have possibly considered him the best player in the league is far too small. How many years in the NBA would you say there was no doubt that MJ was the best player? 6? 8? 10? In retrospect, it's probably at least 8. I'm not sure there's ever a season where Kobe's the undisputed best player, and there's certainly no where near eight such seasons.
Kobe's been no where near the clutch player that Jordan was in the finals either. He quit on his team in the playoffs once. He had a very mediocre finals on several occasions where a Jordan like performance would have easily won the ring. If Kobe was Jordan, given his caliber of play in the finals, he'd already have seven or more rings. He's not. Disregarding playoff stats, his regular season stats also fail to compare.
In short, Kobe's a great player, 2nd greatest SG of all time, but there is a noticeable gap in every area between him and Jordan, and even if he wins three more rings, unless his play radically improves (an unrealistic expectation at the age of 32), then he's got no hope of ever passing Michael.
Let's move on to LeBron. LeBron is more difficult to argue, because LeBron has so much career left. In fact, he'll only turn 26 this season. An age where Jordan had yet to capture an NBA championship. LeBron's career arc thus far resembles Jordan except that he came out three years younger. However, he's dominated the league individually without much help while yet to be able to win a title.
LeBron though, is about to add some jewelry. The problem with LeBron is that his help is too good. His team is too strong. I love Scottie Pippen to death, but Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are better than Scottie and Grant/Rodman. Wade was a finals MVP in his own right already, and is a legitimate year in and year out MVP candidate.
LeBron's cast may be so good that he may not even win the finals MVP. Is LeBron really the closer on this team? We've yet to find out. Much like Kobe, and much unlike Jordan, LeBron has also bailed on his team in a playoff series. He's quit. He hasn't shown the same level of utter commitment to get it done. I don't think he took the easy way out. While Jordan said he wanted to beat Larry and Magic, do you really think Jordan would have been upset if one of them was traded to the Bulls? He was always begging for help.
However, it didn't happen that way for Michael. The Bulls added good players, but he won his six titles as clearly the man. He was so much the man in his title wins, that few players have ever meant more to their team in a championship run than Jordan did to the Bulls. Hakeem is the only one who leaps to mind. LeBron won't have that.
That means his rings will be weighed out less valuable than Michaels. Can he win eight rings? nine rings? Anything is possible, but it's awfully unlikely. It would take an inconceivably good run in order for LeBron to win eight more rings in his career. Especially since Wade isn't going to hold up for eight seasons.
Ignoring the rings argument, can LeBron win a defensive MVP? Can he make 9 defensive first teams? Can he lead the league in scoring for 11 seasons? The thing about Jordan too is that he made these accomplishments in the majority of his seasons in the league. Jordan only had 11 seasons in his prime, losing one to injury, and two to retirement. Heck, of those 11 seasons, several were well past his prime, it's just that he was so awesome a past his prime Jordan still dominated the hell out of the league.
Even if LeBron can match some of Jordan's raw numbers in terms of awards (unlikely), he'll take 16+ seasons to do what Jordan did in 11. I won't be surprised if LeBron wins six rings. I won't be surprised if there is huge media hype that he's better than Jordan at that point, however, when we look back and measure who he had to do it with, how many years it took him, how he contributed in other areas, then a reasonable person will still look back at the pair and pick Jordan without blinking.
LeBron's already spent too much time to match Jordan's accomplishments in a similar time frame. He's too far behind the pace in too many areas. He's already put himself on an easier path. He's come close to living up to Jordan's stats, but he's fallen just short. In short, everything about LeBron so far is close, but he'll lose by a little bit in every category. Not as clutch, not as good a defender, not as good statistically, not as clearly dominant as Jordan, will need more talent to win, not as mentally tough, just not as good in every area.
His only hope is to win in terms of titles, but he's put himself to not be as important to his title teams as Jordan, and he'd still need to win seven titles to even be debatable in that one category while still losing in everything else.
Jordan may not be the greatest forever. There may come a day where someone dominates their era more so than Michael his, but it's not someone in the league yet.
So sorry Kobe, sorry LeBron. I'm sorry that you keep getting propped up in this conversation you can never win. Perhaps one of the only conversations that can be brought up to diminish your talents. That said, you're still no Michael Jordan.