I just watched a Lakers 07-08 Season Tribute video. The video inspired me. The Lakers have had an incredible season. Phil Jackson did a remarkable job at managing this Lakers' squad. A criticism of Jackson in the past was that he could not teach and groom younger players. You can throw that theory out the window. Now, the theory is that Phil got thoroughly outcoached by Doc Rivers in the Finals. Practically every analyst and a lot of Laker fans think so. I do not. Is there a possibility that the Celtics were so much better than the Lakers that no matter what Phil did, the Celtics were going to win. I am not saying that Phil did not make mistakes during the Finals and also, there is no excuse for getting manhandled by 40 in the final game. But, Phil did an incredible job coaching the Lakers throughout the season and through Western Conference. The fans that are calling for his firing are completely unfounded and out of touch. Phil is one of the best coaches in the NBA and the perfect coach for this Laker team. For those of you who believe that Paul Pierce completely outplayed Kobe Bryant during the series, here are some statistics, Kobe: 26 ppg, 5 asst, 5 reb, 3 stl, 41%FG. Pierce: 22 ppg, 6 asst, 5 reb, 1 stl, 43%FG. Better numbers yes, but not by much; not to mention Pierce went up against the Lakers' defense which is laughably inferior to the Celtics’s. Let us be reminded that Lebron James shot 35%FG in his series against the Celtics.
Now let’s get to the real subject of this article. Kobe. During the playoffs many fans and analysts began comparing Kobe to the one and only Michael Jordan. And then when the Lakers lost to the Celtics, the tune changed to ‘Can we stop comparing him to Michael now?’ The truth is that Kobe himself does not want to be compared to Jordan. Kobe wants to be so much better than Jordan that people do not dare compare Jordan to him. In my opinion, Kobe is a better scorer than Jordan. Kobe is the most talented offensive player in the history of the game. He has it all. He can shoot from almost unlimited range and if he drives the paint, he has every shot, layup, and dunk in the book. In fact, Kobe has rewritten the book. Let’s get one thing straight, I am not saying Kobe is a better player than Jordan. The fact is that you cannot accurately compare players from different eras. The best way you can compare them is to compare their performance relative to their era. The problem with this is that certain players play in easier eras than others. If Jordan were in his prime during the 1980s of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, would he have 6 rings? If Magic or Larry were not both around during the 1980’s, how many rings would the other one of them have? This is a valid argument but still a weak one. You cannot punish Michael for dominating his competition and also, who is to say that he would not have won 6 titles in any era.
Kobe is 29 years old. Kobe has five finals appearances and three titles. When Jordan was 29, he had two finals appearances and two titles. Can we please wait until Kobe’s career is over before we say whether or not he was a better player than Jordan? I guess not. So let’s go for it. If you have not yet realized it, I am going to defend Kobe. First off, Kobe has to face zone defenses (which is pretty much what the Celtics played). In Jordan’s era, zoning was illegal. Secondly, everyone underestimates just how good Scottie Pippen was. He is one of the 50 greatest players of all time, 10x All-Defensive Team selection, 3x All-NBA First Team selection, and 7x NBA All-Star. During the six title years of the Bulls, here are Pippen’s assist averages: 6.2, 7.0, 6.3, 5.9, 5.7, 5.8. Here are Jordan’s averages: 5.5, 6.1, 5.5, 4.3, 4.3, 3.5. Pippen led the Bulls in assists in each of those years. If you look at the playoff stats during those years, Pippen led the Bulls in assists in four out of the six title runs. The fact is that Jordan was not always the primary playmaker on the Bulls. Pippen usually created more shots for his teammates than Jordan did. You will not find one year since Shaq left that Kobe has not led the Lakers in assists. Additionally, the quality of Jordan’s supporting casts is very misconstrued. In the 1993-94 season, the year after Jordan first retired, the Bulls won 55 games and lost in 7 games to the Knicks in the conference semifinals, led by Scottie Pippen. The Bulls were always one of the league’s best defenses. They had perfect role players around Jordan who made open shots and played tough defense. Just because they did not put up great offensive numbers does not mean they were not good. Average basketball fans make the error of only looking at offensive statistics to determine a player’s worth. If this was true, guys like Bruce Bowen, James Posey, and Ronny Turiaf would not have jobs.
Here is an excerpt from J.A. Adande’s ESPN article: “Do you think Jordan never had a Finals performance with numbers like the 27 points and 42 percent shooting Bryant’s experiencing against the Celtics? You must not have watched the 1996 Finals, when Jordan averaged 27 points and shot 42 percent against Seattle.”
When Jordan played in the NBA, he was the NBA’s darling child. He resurrected the NBA after Bird and Magic left. He alone was making hundreds of millions of dollars for the NBA. If you can believe that the NBA has a conspiracy theory for the Lakers and Celtics to meet in the Finals now, there is no way you cannot believe the NBA wanted Jordan to succeed back then. I, myself, am not a believer in any kind of conspiracy theory about the NBA. As Los Angeles Times writer Mark Heisler put it, “If the NBA is fixing anything, it’s doing a really lousy job.” Anyways, in those days, Jordan got every call. Any time he drove the lane, he either scored or got a foul. If you watched this year’s Lakers series between the Spurs or the Celtics, you can see that the same was not true for Kobe. Magic once told Larry Bird not to stand too close to Michael or they might call a foul.
As for their troubles off the court, everyone is familiar with Kobe’s rape accusation in Colorado. The charges were dropped shortly after the trial began. The truth might never be known, but we do know that Kobe committed Adultery. Shocking right, except Jordan did the same….many times. Jordan cheated on his wife numerous times during their marriage and has a former mistress that claims that Jordan promised her $5 million when he retired to keep her quiet. Additionally, Jordan’s gambling problems are well known as he once lost $57,000 on golf, poker, and other gambling and then lied about it. My point is that many NBA stars have off-court troubles. You cannot let those issues cloud your thinking when you evaluate them as basketball players. Both Jordan and Kobe have tried mightily to resurrect their images and become respectable role models. I respect both immensely.
Another argument I want to explore is the Tiger Woods comparison. I heard this on ESPN and was dumbfounded at how ESPN discovered another way to criticize Kobe by saying he is not even close to Tiger. Why the heck would you even compare the two? Forget the fact that their sports are not even close to similar. Tiger plays an individual sport. He does not have to work with teammates, encourage teammates, or make his teammates better. He simply has to make himself better. If basketball were an individual sport, Kobe would be the greatest of All-Time. The man scored 81 points in a game. Tiger and Kobe both have personality flaws that are geared towards individual accomplishments. They care about themselves above all others. Tiger did not care about the feel good story of Rocco Mediate last weekend, he wanted to crush him. Kobe cannot behave in this way, therefore he has had to adjust. He learned how to work with his coach and his teammates and has made great strides. Is he perfect? No… not even close. But he is trying hard and that is all one can ask.
Finally, this is to all the Laker and Kobe haters. I love the Lakers and therefore I love Kobe. I am a Laker fan BEFORE I am a Kobe fan. The Lakers are my family and Kobe is part of that family. I treat Kobe like a brother. Sometimes your brother misbehaves and makes mistakes, but you love your brother regardless. I will never argue that Kobe is not sometimes selfish, arrogant, condescending, self-absorbed, or annoying. But he is a brother and a son to Laker fans and as long as he is part of the Laker family, we will support him.
Here is the inspirational video I spoke of: http://www.lakersmedia.com/?p=176#more-176
Video of Kobe against Zone Defenses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kYBeNQdSCc