Kobe Bryant vs Michael Jordan: Who is Better?

If one thing is for sure, Kobe Bryant’s incredible career was defined by Michael Jordan. Despite each having their own separate NBA careers, Bryant could never escape the comparisons made between him and his childhood idol. Looking at their physical profiles, they seemed almost identical. Both played the shooting guard position and stood at 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s mannerisms, appearance, and preparation for the game replicated each other. Perhaps their most similar trait was their work ethic and the passion and love for the sport of basketball. Both demanded greatness not only from their teammates and those around them but from themselves.

Both Bryant and Jordan held themselves to a standard that has yet to be matched in the world of sports. In some ways, Michael was the inventor, and Kobe, the replicator. That’s not to say they didn’t learn from each other, because they certainly did. Jordan mastered the game in every which way possible, with Bryant mirroring Jordan’s every move.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Michael Jordan was a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant. But despite MJ’s greatness as a basketball player, Kobe Bryant’s greatness is often underappreciated when comparing him to the greatest of all time. I believe Bryant was much better than some thought he was, and that in some instances, he may have been better than Jordan in several facets of the game.

Due to their endless similarities, people have always compared them against one another, asking who is better. Even if there is a definitive answer to that question, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and accolades from two of the most illustrious players the sport of basketball has ever witnessed.

Career Beginnings

At the age of 21, Michael Jordan entered the league before the 1984 season and was immediately the face of the franchise. Jordan quickly asserted himself as the Bull’s best player his rookie season as he averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. Jordan went on to win Rookie of the Year that season before winning seven straight scoring titles following his sophomore season in the NBA.

Compared to Jordan’s entrance into the NBA, Kobe Bryant’s pathway to stardom started on a different note. Bryant was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers by the Charlotte Hornets in a trade involving former Lakers center, Vlade Divac. At just 18 years of age, many questioned Bryant’s ability to play against men much older than him in the NBA.

In his first two seasons, Bryant came off the bench and played second fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal until Shaq was shipped to Miami in 2004. Bryant wasn’t even a 20-point scorer until his fourth season, whereas Jordan put up more than 25 points per game his rookie season.

As for his best scoring season, Bryant averaged 35.4 PPG in 2006, which would go down as the eight-highest scoring average in NBA history. Jordan, on the other hand, topped his scoring average in 1986 when he averaged 37.1 PPG. MJ also scored more than 30 PPG an astonishing eight times in his career, including seven in a row.

Edge: Jordan

Head-to-Head Battles

With only six years of overlap between the two, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan faced each other a total of 8 times. Bryant won five of those matchups, going 2-2 when Jordan was with the Bulls and 3-1 against the Wizards. Bryant would manage double-digit point totals in six of the contests while Jordan managed seven double-digit scoring games.

Of the eight matchups, Bryant recorded the only triple-double between the two. This happened in a game in 2002 when Jordan suited up for the Washington Wizards. Kobe scored 23 points, snatched 11 rebounds, and dished out 15 assists in the Lakers’ 103-94 win over the Wizards.

PlayerPTS/GREB/GAST/GSTL/GFG %FT %
Kobe Bryant22.84.43.90.946.675.9
Michael Jordan24.54.33.61.143.675

With their numbers almost identical, we’re going to give Kobe the edge during their head-to-head matchups. On a more important note, Jordan was already 33 years of age when Kobe entered the NBA at 18, so both of the players were nowhere near their prime when facing each other. Also, let’s take into account that Jordan may have outscored Bryant in their head-to-head matchups since Bryant was the second option behind Shaquille O’Neal during their first few contests.

Edge: Bryant

Career Accolades

PlayerGPPTS/GREB/GAST/GSTL/GFG%3P%FT%MVPAll-StarAll-Star MVPAll-NBAAll-NBA 1st TeamAll-DefensiveAll-Defense 1st TeamChampionshipsFinals MVPScoring TitlesDPOYROY
Kobe Bryant1346255.24.71.444.732.983.71x18x4x15x11x12x9x5x2x2x00
Michael Jordan107230.16.25.32.349.732.783.55x14x3x11x10x9x9x6x6x10x1x1x

While we’re giving Kobe the edge over Jordan on their head-to-head matchups, Jordan wins the conversation when it comes to career accolades. Bryant was a 5x NBA Champion while Jordan won 6 titles, including a 6-0 record in the Finals. Bryant, on the other hand, finished his career with a 5-2 record in the Finals. His two losses came to the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and the Boston Celtics in 2008.

Along with more championships, MJ has the edge over Bryant in MVPs (5 to 1), Finals MVPs (6 to 2), DPOY awards (1 to 0), ROY awards (1 to 0), and scoring titles (10 to 2). Bryant finished his career with 20 seasons under his belt, whereas Jordan played only 15. Despite Bryant having played more seasons, MJ has better career averages in all categories, excluding three-point and free-throw percentages.

Even though Jordan leads Bryant in almost every career accolade, Bryant does have a slight edge in a few categories. He has more All-Star appearances (18 to 14) All-NBA First Team selections (11 to 10), All-Defensive team appearances (12 to 9), and more career points than Michael Jordan. Kobe’s the fourth-highest scorer in NBA history while Jordan holds the five spot.

Edge: Jordan

Scoring Ability

Kobe Bryant has more career points than Michael Jordan, but Jordan was the better scorer between the two. Highlighted by his NBA record 10 scoring titles, Jordan also averaged 30.1 points per game. Let me also mention that Jordan’s scoring average is 5.1 points more than Bryant. Had Jordan played as many seasons as Bryant did in the NBA, he would have certainly ended up with more career points than Kobe did.

Jordan was one of the most productive scoring threats in league history. He led the league in scoring 10 out of his 15 seasons and scored a career-high 37.1 PPG in 1986. His mark during the 1986-87 season is the fifth-highest scoring average of any player in league history. Jordan is also the only other player besides the great Wilt Chamberlain inside the top five scoring averages in NBA history.

Even in Michael Jordan’s two seasons on the Washington Wizards, where he had his two lowest-scoring seasons, he averaged better than 20 points per game. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant’s two worst scoring seasons came in his rookie season, where he averaged only 7.5 PPG and in his 17th NBA season when he totaled just 13.8 PPG.

Edge: Jordan

Passing

Most basketball fans remember Jordan and Bryant more for their scoring abilities, but they were indeed terrific passers at the shooting guard position. Even with Jordan posting a better career average in assists, Bryant was the better passer between the two. Between the two all-time greats, Jordan has the more renowned assist, which came during the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.

Jordan’s pass to Steve Kerr to seal the 1997 NBA Finals:

Kobe finished 31st in career assists, whereas Jordan finished 45th on the all-time list. Bryant recorded four seasons in which he finished inside the Top 20 for season assist totals compared to Jordan’s three. Kobe is second in career assists for the Los Angeles Lakers, trailing only Magic Johnson on the team’s all-time list, and is also ahead of Jerry West in that department.

Here are some of Bryant’s best assists as a Laker:

Bryant didn’t post gaudy assist totals, but his scoring ability always made him a threat to find the open man with the ball in his hands. Running the triangle in Phil Jackson’s offense, Bryant’s role demanded a high basketball IQ, as he was forced to be the primary ball-handler for many seasons on the Lakers.

Edge: Bryant

Rebounding

Standing at 6’6″, both Kobe and MJ were great rebounders for their size and position. Jordan does have a one rebound advantage over Bryant in terms of career average, but Bryant has more total rebounds than the Bull’s legend. Bryant finished his career with the third-most rebounds in Laker’s team history (7,047). He has more rebounds as a Laker than Shaq, Kareem, and Magic Johnson. The rebounding category is more tricky to decide since Bryant has more seasons under his belt than Jordan, leading in more career rebounds.

Also, take into account that Jordan played with the game’s best rebounder of all-time, Dennis Rodman. With both players making All-Defensive First Team nine times apiece, both were exceptional defenders who had a high IQ in all facets of the game, including rebounding. If not for Rodman and Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe and Jordan’s rebounding numbers could have been substantially higher than what they are now.

Edge: None

Teammates

PlayerPTS/GREB/GAST/GBLK/GMVPAll-StarAll-Star MVPAll-NBAAll-DefChampionshipsFinals MVPDPOYCareer Points
Shaquille O'Neal23.710.92.52.31x15x3x14x3x4x3x028,596
Pau Gasol179.23.21.606x04x02x0020,894
Robert Horry74.82.10.900007x007,715
Scottie Pippen16.16.45.20.807x1x7x10x6x0018,940
Dennis Rodman7.313.11.802x02x8x5x02x6,683
Horace Grant11.28.12.2100004x4x0012,996

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were transcendent talents, no doubt, but they didn’t win championships without a little help along the way. Both players had their fair share of teammates that helped shoulder the load en route to several championship rings.

Kobe won five championships, three alongside Shaquille O’Neal, and two with Pau Gasol as his sidekick. O’Neal is by far the best teammate between Bryant and Jordan. He’s a Hall of Famer, who made 15 All-Star appearances and is the single most dominant force in NBA history. Gasol is one of the more underrated players in league history, and in my estimation, should make the Hall of Fame when his playing career is over.

Although not on the level of Gasol or O’Neal, Robert Horry comes in at number three on the list for Bryant’s best teammates. “Big Shot Rob” was one of the most clutch shooters in playoff history and had seven championship rings to back his name.

Like O’Neal was for Kobe, Scottie Pippen is the runaway candidate for Michael Jordan’s best teammate. Pip is a Hall of Famer who finished his career as one of the best two-way players in league history. Jordan’s success also depended heavily upon the play of Dennis Rodman, who is arguably the best rebounder and defender of all-time.

Edge: Bryant

Leadership

Perhaps what we remember the most from both players is their drive and mentality to win. This was reflected in many areas of the game, such as leadership and work ethic. Both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan possessed a similar leadership style where they demanded greatness from themselves and those around them.

In terms of leadership style, they’re pretty equal as to how they handled their leadership responsibilities on and off the court. If we’re talking about effectiveness, the nod goes to Jordan, as he was 6-0 in the Finals compared to Kobe’s 5-2 record.

Edge: Jordan

Coaching

Of the many coaches that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played under during their legendary careers, one name stands alone. That name is Phil Jackson. Jackson is responsible for all eleven NBA Championships between the two NBA legends. Both players endured enormous amounts of success under the tutelage of Jackson, and both failed to win a title without him. And for those very reasons, no player gains the advantage in coaching.

Edge: None

Sustained Greatness

In terms of longevity, Bryant holds the edge over Jordan in total seasons, 20 to 15, and he became the first player in NBA history to play 20 seasons for a single franchise. Even in his late 30s, Bryant was often called upon to score 20-plus a night.

With Bryant holding the edge in seasons played over MJ, Jordan did miss four and a half seasons. First, Michael Jordan did miss the 1993-94 season to pursue his childhood dream of playing major league baseball. He made his return to the NBA during the 1994-95 season and appeared in 17 regular-season games.

Jordan’s second retirement came in 1998 when His Airness took a three-year hiatus from the NBA before returning to basketball in 2001 as a member of the Washington Wizards. Like Bryant, Jordan still made numerous All-Star appearances in his upper thirties while maintaining an above-average scoring output.

In terms of production, during the end of their careers, I’m going to give the edge to Bryant. Jordan may have had the better scoring average (20+ PPG), but Bryant may have had the best finale for a player in NBA history.

Bryant’s final game came on April 13, 2016, against the Utah Jazz. The implications of the game were huge: Kobe’s last game at Staples Center and a playoff spot on the line for the Utah Jazz, who were one game out of the 8th seed in the West.

In traditional Mamba fashion, Bryant delivered for Los Angeles, scoring 60 points, 23 of which came in the fourth quarter, and finishing his career as a winner. Bryant’s 60 points also marked his first 50-point performance since the 2009 season.

Edge: None

Impact off the Court

Kobe and Michael impacted the game of basketball on the court, but their most significant impact on the sport extends far beyond the hardwood. Both players used their platform to empower an entire race of people and used their platforms to become global icons of hope.

With the success that he endured during his career, Michael Jordan revolutionized the culture of sports, which had a considerable impact on society. He paved the way for athletes to profit off of their labor and success, as well as their image. This all started with the creation of Jordan Brand, as the Air Jordan shoe line transformed the landscape of the shoe and fashion industry forever.

Where I fault Jordan off the court is his stance on social activism. Although he may be the most famous athlete ever to live, he has stayed silent on numerous social injustice incidents while prioritizing the protection of his image and brand.

Comparingly, Kobe Bryant has far surpassed Jordan off the court when it comes to community outreach and philanthropy. Bryant created the Vivo Foundation in 2002, which promotes youth education, financial help for those in need, and resources for families who serve the United States overseas. Bryant also created the Mamba Academy, which focuses on passing down knowledge to future generations of athletes and provides elite athletes with the resources to attain their athletic goals through the lessons of the “Mamba Mentality.”

Bryant’s most significant impact on society has perhaps been his drive to promote women’s sports. Kobe’s mission to gain equality for female athletes hasn’t gone unnoticed, as many professional sports leagues are now advocating for equal pay among women’s teams in the world of sport.

Edge: Bryant

Diehard Laker and Seahawk fan. I unfortunately witnessed the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball on the 1 yard line. I hope that sports can unite people and bring them closer together. Current student at Chapman University.

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