Michael Jordan fans, I heard the Home Depot is having a 25% Off sale on pitchforks, torches, and molitov cocktail supplies. As a word of friendly advice, you might want to run down and stock up on those items before you finish reading this column.
While the subjective debate about, "Is Kobe better than MJ?" is not going to die for the next few years as Kobe continues with his blood-lust pursuit of more titles and individual scoring records, there is at least one way to objectively look at the Kobe vs. MJ debate:
How did they perform in head-to-head match-ups against each other?
The answer, to put it simply, is that Kobe dominated Michael Jordan when the two of them set foot on the same NBA hardwood.
The MJ-Kobe on-court rivalry lasted eight games and started in 1996 when Kobe was just an 18-year-old reserve player and MJ was a primed 33-year-old leading the league in scoring at 30 PPG. The rivalry ended in reverse fashion in 2003 with a 25-year-old Kobe dropping 30 a night and 40-year-old MJ awkwardly huffing and puffing in a Wizards uniform. In other words, there were times during their head-to-head games when Kobe was a rookie playing 15 MPG, other times when they were both in their primes, and yet others when MJ was over the hill. In all, it is a pretty fair comparison.
And in the eight games MJ and Kobe went head-to-head, Kobe Bryant was clearly the better player as seen below. All stats are provide by Pro-Basketball-Reference.com and can be found here.
Win-Loss Record: Advantage Kobe. Kobe's Lakers beat MJ's Bulls/Wiz 5-3 in their eight head-to-head battles. One of the main reasons most NBA observers have MJ ranked above Kobe is because MJ has won more titles. That's valid. Therefore, so is Kobe's 5-3 advantage on the scoreboard.
Scoring: Advantage MJ. His Airness (24.5 PPG) barely edges out the Black Mamba (22.8 PPG) in this category. But to quote Stephen A. Smith - "How-EVVV-uh" - MJ also averaged 35.4 minutes per game to Kobe's 29.1 MPG. Kobe's stats were limited by his 10 minute and 13 minute performances when he faced MJ as a baby-faced rookie. MJ leads the stat sheet here, but Kobe was a better scorer on a per-minute basis. Kobe also has the best single-game scoring mark in the head-to-head match-up with 55 points while MJ's top output was "just" 36.
Shooting: Advantage Kobe. This one was not even close. Kobe's averages of 46.6% FG - 55.2% 3PT - 75.9% FT are noticeably better than MJ's 43.6% - 30.0% - 75.0%. MJ supporters might try to say, "But I bet MJ's numbers went down when he was a washed-up Wizard." Easy, MJ lovers. In fact, two of MJ's best shooting performances against Kobe came during their last two match-ups in 2002 (9 for 14, 64%) and 2003 (10-20, 50%). And, yes, Kobe made it rain down on Jordan's head from the three-point line, hitting an amazing 16 of 29 (55.2%) from the three-point line in their head-to-head games, including his ridiculous 9 for 13 three-point barrage in their final match-up when Kobe dropped 55 on MJ's noggin.
Assists: Advantage Kobe. Again, despite the disparity in minutes (35 for MJ, 29 for Kobe), Kobe still managed to sneak away with a 3.9 APG advantage over MJ's 3.6 APG output. Kobe also holds the single-game mark between the two when he dished out 15 assists en route to a triple double (23-11-15) against MJ's Wiz on February 12th, 2002. MJ's best assist game was six, which he recorded in the same game as Kobe's triple-double.
Rebounds: Advantage Kobe. Kobe by a nose (4.4 RPG vs. 4.3 RPG) despite MJ's heavier minutes. It didn't hurt Kobe's cause that a 40-year-old MJ recorded 0 rebounds in 41 minutes in their last head-to-head match-up.
Steals/Blocks: Even. MJ averaged more steals (1.1 vs. 0.9) while Kobe averaged more blocks (0.6 vs. 0.5). But in the end these are ancillary stats and do not carry a tremendous amount of weight in the, "Who's better?" debate.
The stats I listed above include Kobe's 10 minute and 13 minute performances as a rookie. It also includes MJ's 12 minute game from 2002. When these three anomalies are removed and only games with a regular amount of minutes were played (in this case, at least 26 minutes), Kobe's numbers are noticeably better than Jordan's:
Kobe: 6 G's, 35 MPG, 28.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, 48% FG, 56% 3PT, 79% FT. Record: 4-2.
Jordan: 7 G's, 37 MPG, 27.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.8 APG, 48% FG, 38% 3PT, 76% FT. Record: 3-4.
The "Kobe vs. Jordan" debate will not be settled for a few more years, and depending on how Kobe finishes his career it may never be resolved.
But one thing about their rivalry is certain: Kobe dominated MJ in their head-to-head matchups.
MJ fans, I hear Home Depot is still open. Just sayin'.