By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor – @JESchott19
In an interview with NBA TV in honor of his 50th birthday, Michael Jordan said he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James as the best player right now. He used championships as the barometer.
“Five beats one every time I look at it. And not that (James) won’t get five. He may get more than that, but five is bigger than one,” said Jordan.
The five refers to the World Championships that Bryant has won with the Lakers, while James won his only championship with the Heat last season.
LET’S LOOK AT THEIR RECORDS AND SEE IF JORDAN IS RIGHT:
Kobe Bryant entered the league in 1996, and teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to form one of the best dynasties in Lakers history. They won three titles in a row from 2000 to 2002.
They made it back to The Finals in 2004 with a superstar roster that included Karl Malone and Gary Payton, but lost to the Pistons.
Those teams were coached by Phil Jackson and featured Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, and Brian Shaw.
During this dynasty, Shaq was the NBA MVP in 2000, and Finals MVP in 2001 and 2002.
After that 2004 season, Shaq left the Lakers and joined the Heat, where he won another title in 2006. The knock on Kobe became that he couldn’t win without Shaq.
The Lakers had a couple of down seasons and reloaded in 2008 with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and brought back Fisher, who played in Golden State for a couple of seasons.
With Gasol, they had one of the premier frontcourt players in the league. Unlike with Shaq, there was no question this was Kobe’s team, and he won the MVP in 2008.
They upset the Spurs in the Conference Finals. they renewed their rivalry with the Celtics, and lost to them in six games.
They made it back in 2009 and beat the Magic for Kobe’s fourth title. They wound up against the Celtics again in 2010, and won the title in a seven-game classic.
Bryant, in his 17th season, is still one of the top five players in the NBA. He is averaging 26.8 points and 5.6 assists this season. For his career, he has averaged 25.5 points per game.
Bryant is one of the all-time greats, as he has scored the fifth-most points in NBA history, with 30,933. If he gets a sixth championship, he would arguably go down as Jordan’s equal in NBA history.
LeBron James joined the league in 2003 out of high school, and lived up to the hype immediately. He was the Rookie of the Year in the 2003-04 season, averaging 20.9 points per game.
By 2005-06, he averaged 31.4 points per game, very Jordan-like, and by that time truly living up to the “King” nickname. Cleveland made the playoffs for the first time with LeBron, and won 50 games. The Detroit Pistons stood in their way, as they won the Central Division and beat Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs.
Cleveland won 50 games again in 2007, and they reached The Finals, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. In the playoffs that season, LeBron averaged 25.1 points per game. The next highest was Ilgauskas at 12.6 points per game.
The next year, the Cavaliers lost in the second round to the Boston Celtics, as James was outdueled by Paul Pierce in Game 7. That was one of the greatest battles ever, as James scored 45 and Pierce had 41.
In 2009, LeBron won his first MVP award. Cleveland was a lock to make The Finals, after the Celtics, who were without the injured Kevin Garnett, lost to the Orlando Magic in the second round. The Magic stunned the Cavs to win the Conference Finals, but the most memorable moment was when James hit a three in the closing seconds to win Game 1.
Throughout those years, LeBron’s supporting cast was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, and Anderson Varejao.
They were all fine players, but he did not have a player of Shaq’s caliber to pair with. They tried to change that in the 2009-10 season, by bringing in Shaq himself, who was 37 at the time and still had a lot in the tank. They also acquired Antawn Jamison mid-season to bolster the roster.
LeBron was the NBA MVP for the second straight year in 2010, and Cleveland once again fell to the Celtics in the second round. That series was marked by a Celtics’ blowout in Cleveland in Game 5.
In the summer of 2010, James turned himself into Public Enemy #1 by leaving Cleveland, and joined the Miami Heat to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He saw Cleveland could never give him the support that Miami would provide. James saw that this was the model to win in the NBA, such as Boston had with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
They made The Finals in their first year as the NBA’s newest Big 3, and were upset by the Dallas Mavericks. In 2012, James was the MVP for the third time, as he averaged 27.1 points per game. He established his dominance over Kevin Durant by leading the Heat past the Thunder in five games in the Finals.
FINAL VERDICT: Kobe’s record is nearly complete, as he will likely play up to three more seasons. LeBron could play another ten years, and if he and Wade can keep this high level of play, maybe they could win six titles together, like Jordan did with Scottie Pippen in Chicago.
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