Leading up to the NBA Finals this week, the topic of conversation in the sports media has been, "Can we start comparing Kobe to Michael Jordan?" And I mean everyone has taken this ball and run with it. The general consensus is that Kobe is not as great as Michael Jordan yet, but he's in the conversation.
Is he really? Let's just have a look.
Kobe is playing for his 4th NBA title at age 30. Michael Jordan retired a six-time champion but didn't win his first until he was 28. So, on the surface, it may look like Kobe is approaching MJ status. But here's the rub. MJ was the NBA Finals MVP 6 times. Kobe has won that award exactly zero times. Kobe is a great player but let's tell it like it is. The truth is that Kobe has 3 championships because he was riding on the broad shoulders of Shaq "The Big Bricklayer" O'Neal. Now, to be sure, if the Lakers win the championship this year, Kobe will be the Finals MVP (who else would get it? Lamar Odom? Pau Gasol?). That still leaves him five shy of MJ.
So, he doesn't match up on Finals MVP awards. What about regular season MVP Awards? MJ won 5 of them. Kobe just won his first this year. It is a distinct possibility that Kobe will win more of those. But for right now, Kobe still has fewer MVP Awards than Steve Nash.
This is the part that really gets me. What were the talking heads saying about Kobe last year after a first-round defeat at the hands of the Suns? I believe it went something like this: "Kobe Bryant does not make his teammates better." They all seemed to agree that the Lakers could look forward to more early playoff exits as long as it was Kobe + 11 other guys. Granted, Kobe did make his teammates better this year. Frankly, it's pretty astounding that he was able to make chronic underachiever Lamar Odom better. So, credit to Kobe for that. However, MJ made his teammates better every year. These same talking heads are willing to put Kobe "in the conversation" because Kobe "matured" and made his teammates better for one season? (By the way, nobody should get points for maturity at age 30.)
Now, I realize that this is the sort of "story" that gets tossed around when 24-hour sports media outlets have so much time to fill. And this certainly isn't a poke at Kobe. He probably is the best player in the NBA at the moment. That's coming from someone who is not a big fan of the Lakers. But even if Kobe is really "in the conversation" of greatest NBA player of all time with the likes of MJ, he still has a lot of catching up to do.