Michael Jordan ranked Kobe Bryant over LeBron James this past summer for one reason: “There’s something about five that beats three.” We can argue whether we think determining one player is better than another merely because they’ve won more championships is a worthwhile exercise.
But Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team will be on hand at the Staples Center when the Los Angeles Lakers retire Kobe’s Nos. 8 and 24 at halftime and who played with Jordan on the Chicago Bulls, took a more nuanced approach to the question: “How do Bryant and Jordan compare to each other?”
“Kobe is the closest thing to Michael,” Kerr told Mercury News beat reporter Mark Medina. “Everybody has been compared to Michael. LeBron [James] has been compared to Michael. I don’t think LeBron is Michael at all. He’s a very different player with a different mentality and mindset. Kobe has a different mindset and mentality that MJ had.”
“The assassin, the ‘I’m going to rip your throat out with my scoring, low post dominant fadeaway jumper, and footwork.’ I thought Kobe’s footwork was one of the best parts of his game, probably the most underrated because everybody focused on his shooting and his athleticism. His footwork got him open. That’s where he is so similar to Michael. He got any shot he wanted. He never feared. He didn’t care. He missed tons of game-winning shots. He made tons. Just went on to the next game and did the same thing over and over again.”
That sounds about right, considering Kobe and LeBron are two entirely different players with entirely different personalities. If you were to ask which one of those players most resembled the way Jordan played, it would be Bryant — hands down. Kobe famously asked MJ about his footwork during a stoppage in play of a December 1997 game, and he later conceded to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck that “damn near 100 percent” of his moves were lifted right out of Jordan’s playbook. This is no secret.
The problematic part of Kerr’s statement, if you must find one, is the “rip your throat out” part. Kerr knows better than anyone about LeBron’s killer instinct, having coached in the 2016 Finals. That’s why Kerr even provided a caveat to his statement, suggesting LeBron doesn’t necessarily take you out with “scoring, low post dominant fadeaway jumper, and footwork.” A block, on the other hand? Sure.
Of course, LeBron can beat you with his scoring as well. The idea that the four-time MVP lacks a killer instinct can be traced to James ceding clutch shots to open teammates. It’s hard to ever imagine Kobe doing that, but we also know that Jordan did this at least twice in the Finals. Kerr knows this, too:
Still, it’s hard to argue Kerr’s overall point: The closest player we’ve ever seen to Jordan — taking into account style of play, personality and all the facets of their games — is Bryant. No question. That still doesn’t mean Kobe is better than LeBron, so feel free to continue debating that until the end of time.
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More Kobe Bryant coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Michael Lee: How Kobe became the NBA’s godfather
• Mamba Moments: 20 snapshots from 20 years of Kobe
• Report: Phil Jackson won’t make Kobe ceremony
• Eric Adelson: What if Kobe’s darkest chapter happened today?
• Vikings star salutes Kobe with cleats, TD celebration