Michael Jordan's ranking of Kobe Bryant as a top-10 guard reeks of insecurity
Bryant filmed a promo for NBA 2K11 in which he gushed about how he loved M.J.'s moves growing up and how he planned to draft him to the Lakers. Jordan also promoted the game, including an interview with USA Today, where he clearly downplayed where Bryant will stand among the league's all-time greats.
"I think he is always going to be within the conversations of some of the greatest players who've played by the time he is finished," Jordan said. "Where does he rank among those, if you are talking about positions? If you are talking about guards, I would say he has got to be in the top 10."
Wow. Jordan sounds as if he's throwing Bryant a bone, but he clearly isn't. Bryant's five NBA championships, two Finals and one regular-season MVP and 12th-place standing on the league's all-time scoring list clearly deserves more than a top 10 list at the guards' position. Consider that he's already being debated within the realm of the Lakers' all-time greats and his career isn't over yet.
It sounds like M.J. is a little too insecure about Bryant tying him for a possible sixth ring after this season, a sentiment that wasn't lost on Lakers Coach Phil Jackson when he was asked about the Kobe-Jordan comparisons.
"Well, I guess I'd be about as good a judge as anybody on that, having been able to coach both those players," Jackson told reporters, including The Times' Mike Bresnahan. "Great competitors. Similarities in their game are great. Perhaps the eras have changed a little bit...."We love the idea that it could happen, that Kobe could win a sixth ring. I'm sure Michael is watching with great anticipation as to how it's going to come out too."
It's unfortunate Jordan has to resort to such pettiness, considering there's largely a mutual respect between himself and Bryant, most recently when Jordan said at a camp that Bryant's better than LeBron James. But it's hardly a surprise considering his mean-spirited Hall-of-Fame speech. There's always material that will rile up Kobe supporters', the latest being the ongoing analysis regarding Bryant's injuries and how it's going to affect his play. Although there's been some writers who've made the leap in suggesting the 32-year-old Bryant is washed-up goods, I think most of the analysis has actually been fair in recognizing the balance between Bryant's never-ending determination in adjusting his game as well as the reality that mileage and injuries eventually become more and more difficult to overcome. As Lakers great Jerry West remarked to me before Bryant surpassed him as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, "Health is an issue, and then age. If there's one opponent you can't defeat, that's age. He will try that, by the way."
But Jordan's slights are more far-reaching than that and coincide with another ridiculous claim that he'd easily score 100 points if he were still playing today.
All season long, Bryant has emphatically said that tying Jordan with six rings and being seen as a better player than him doesn't matter, while stressing that he just cares about winning a championship itself. Much like his claim before the Finals that beating the Boston Celtics wouldn't hold more significance than any other Finals win, Bryant's simply not telling the truth.
But Bryant is downplaying the storyline for several reasons -- he hopes it'll result in less articles being written about it and less questions thrown his way. He wants to psychologically get in a mindset of pursuing another championship instead of being fixated on what it could do for his legacy. And his refusal to discuss in detail what that means serves as the same reason why Bryant wouldn't share with GQ what he's discussed with Jordan over the years, and why he told Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick why such comparisons between Jordan and himself are misguided. He's simply trying to be respectful of a player he's admired.
That doesn't mean Bryant's always above the fray. He couldn't help but take a dig at Shaquille O'Neal after collecting his fifth ring, but that relationship is obviously much different. Bryant's publicly defended LeBron James' decision to go to Miami, but Bryant didn't mince words about whether he'd beat him one-on-one, although the context was more analytical in tone than trash talking. In return, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and James had a Twitter conversation that entailed the following: Vick 7: @KingJames raise some money 4 the boys and girls club again and play kobe one on one dawg. He's throwing jabs at you. KingJames: @MVick7 i love the boys and girls club of America man!! Yeah he has been taking some shots on the low right! It's all good though."
Jordan's comments go much further, though. It'd be one thing if Jordan defended himself and said he's a better player but that Bryant's on pace to get more titles because he started right out of high school or if he said that different eras equate to incomplete comparisons. But to say Bryant's only within the top 10 in all-time guards reeks of insecurity, and is a comment that surely bothers Bryant.
More than likely, Bryant's not going to say anything back. He'll just let his game speak for itself.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives between Kings forwards Antoine Wright and Carl Landry during Wednesday's exhibition game. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images