The MJ vs. Kobe vs. LeBron debate has been going on for years now. While basketball fanatics still agree that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, the debate becomes more and more nuanced each year, in light of the fact that although MJ’s legacy is written, Kobe is nearing his last chapter, and the ink on LeBron’s pages haven’t dried yet.
In honor of this great debate, these are my top ten misconceptions, caveats, and overlooked facts that need to be pointed out in order to complicate our discussion of who the G.O.A.T. is/will be.
1. People speak on MJ as if he was “MJ” for all of his career.
Aside from maybe Wilt Chamberlain, no player has ever come into the league and became the best player. No player was drafted to a team and became it’s leader (in every sense of the word) right away (LeBron maybe?). But people often speak about Jordan as if he didn’t endure the same maturation process as every other great player. He was always an athletic high scorer, but his basketball IQ, leadership abilities, and maybe most importantly, championships came as he got older. Contrary to Jordan’s mythic status suggests, MJ became MJ. He wasn’t born MJ.
2. Kobe wasn’t drafted to a bad team like MJ or LeBron.
When doing head-to-head-to-head statistical comparisons, there are several categories in which Kobe falls to 3rd place. But many overlook that a big reason why many of MJ and LeBron’s career stats are higher is because they were both drafted to bad teams. This forced them into a much bigger leadership role and production load than Kobe. If MJ or LeBron was drafted to a team that already had current/potential All-Stars, including Shaq, how would their stats stack up to Kobe’s then? What if Kobe actually went to the Hornets? What if MJ was drafted by the Celtics? What if LeBron was drafted by the Spurs?
3. LeBron and MJ hit their peaks on championship teams. Kobe did not.
Again, we should pay more attention to situation. Both MJ and LeBron reached their respective peaks while they were on great teams who won championships (though one could even argue that James still hasn’t reached his peak, which makes him that much more astounding). Kobe hit the height of his prowess when Shaq departed and the Lakeshow was a perennial 8th seed, which makes the comparison of their primes partially unfair. And of the triad, only Kobe can say he played against the other two in their prime. But then again……
4. MJ and Lebron made their teammates better in ways the Kobe did/could not.
This is a little unfair to Kobe, but nevertheless, this might be the biggest knock on his illustrious career. His leadership style often did not fit his personel. While I don’t think it would be right to surmise that Jordan or James are the best leaders in NBA history, we can’t argue that both MJ and LeBron lifted/lift the level of play of their teammates much higher than Kobe. But in Kobe’s defense……..
5. Lebron was the only one of the 3 to leave the team he was drafted to.
Kobe stayed with the Lakers his whole career, just as MJ stayed with the Bulls. Both players persevered through excruciating seasons, and eventually won championships. Jumping ship, Lebron left to take his talents to a constructed team with two other All-Stars. Just like Kobe’s critiqued leadership abilities, fair or not, this will always be a small asterisk on Lebron’s legacy. But in Lebron’s defense……
6. People speak on MJ’s legacy as if did it all by himself.
We do have to stop speaking about MJ’s legacy as if Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, John Paxson, Tony Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, and others just never happened. He did actually have good teams guys, just like Kobe had Shaq and company then Pau and Bynum/MWP, and Lebron has Wade, Bosh, and the rest of the Heatles. No one did it by themselves. Although we do need to stop with the…..
7. “But Kobe had Shaq……..but Jordan had Pippen/Rodman……..but Lebron has Wade/Bosh” side debate.
I think these points convolute the argument. Because when people make them, we have to then compare the greatness of their most important teammates, their team as a whole, the eras in which they played, etc. All of this makes the argument even more hopelessly subjective than it is. But if we wanted to compare eras……
8. All 3 played in different eras. Would be less/more successful if they switched.
I guarantee most people will take this as blasphemy, but if you take the 3 players and switch the eras they played, I think Kobe and LeBron come out on the better end. Kobe at his peak skill level would have been just as much if not even more unguardable then MJ. And a Lebron James getting drafted in 1982? Scientists back then would probably study his games. Could MJ win 6 championships in today’s league? I don’t know.
9. Lengths of careers affect each differently.
Both Kobe and LeBron were drafted out of high school. Therefore their extra few years in the league can either bolster their stats in their individual favor, or ironically bolster MJ’s, in the sense that he achieved a lot more in much less time. This aspect could potentially be the most detrimental to Kobe’s legacy (since his career has been the longest) and most beneficial to LeBron (since his career is the shortest to this date and still has years to go). But I say all of this to make the point that………
10. The debate is not nearly as objective as we try to make it.
With that being said, here is my opinion: as of 2013, Kobe is the most skilled player ever. LeBron is the most talented player ever. Jordan is the best because he is the best combination of talent, skill, and will. Kobe gets pushed out of the conversation when the Lakers lose, but gets brought back to the forefront when they win.
Jordan has 6 rings, Kobe has 5, LeBron has 2. I think Jordan is the best, while Kobe’s window of opportunity is about to be close soon, and LeBron could very well end up being the best when it is all said and done.
So there you have it. Do you agree with me? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Would love to continue the debate.
We Out Here,
But please guys, be respectful. This is a theoretical conversation about the subjectively “best” players in a game. The balance of the universe will not be affected by my or anyone else’s statements. Please keep all crazy troll comments to yourself.