For the past 10 weeks, a younger generation of basketball fans got to experience the Michael Jordan era for the first time because of ESPN’s documentary series,“The Last Dance.” However, many of those same basketballs fans grew up watching their own Michael Jordan, whether it was Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
Of those three players, Bryant and Jordan are arguably the most similar because they played the same position and — as both Jordan and Bryant have said before — Bryant took all of Jordan’s moves, or at least as many as he could. After the series finale of “The Last Dance” on Sunday, Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, talked with Stephen A. Smith about the similarities between Bryant and Jordan, and argued those similarities should put him in the greatest of all time debate:
“I would think [their mentality] is pretty much equal. I never really spent a lot of time with Mike but, of course, watching him win a championship, watching his demeanor, and watching him wanting the ball at the last second, I would say it’s pretty equal.
“And Kobe made a great point: we all look at players before us and we take a little something from them. I wanted to be mean like Patrick Ewing in the post, I wanted to run the floor like David Robinson, I wanted to dominate like Wilt Chamberlain. The only difference is Kobe was able to have a telephone number and have a relationship with these guys. The rest of us, we just had to see other people emulate other people, and steal what they had. But I’m actually glad they had a relationship.
“A lot of people always ask, ‘who’s the greatest player to in the game: Jordan? LeBron?’ I think you must respectfully add Kobe in that conversation.”
Shaq had the unique opportunity of playing with Kobe and LeBron, and competing against MJ in the prime of his career, so he can safely say he’s an authority on this subject. However, in watching “The Last Dance,” I realized this: there’s a direct correlation between people that think Jordan is the greatest player of all time and the people that think Bryant is an all-time top-three player, and there’s a reason for that.
Over the course of their careers, Bryant and Jordan established themselves as fierce competitors who were willing to do whatever it took to win a championship, and sometimes, that included upsetting their teammates. While that might approach to leading a team not work for everyone, it worked for Bryant and Jordan.
Bryant and Jordan also won their combined 11 championships with the same team. Jordan left the Chicago Bulls, but only because he was shown the door. Naturally, people look at James’ record in the Finals, as well as the number of teams he’s played for, and come to to the conclusion that he’s not cut from the same cloth that Bryant and Jordan were.
It’s flawed logic, for sure, but it’s hard to fault anyone for gravitating towards players who built themselves up to be superheroes and lived up to it. That being said, we should be able to celebrate the greatness of Bryant, James and Jordan without any conditions.
Bryant said it best: