Much of the discussion entering the NBA Finals centered around whether LeBron James had closed the “greatest of all-time” gap on Michael Jordan, but that debate has since faded to the point where MJ is now being asked by campers at his Flight School if LeBron has even passed Kobe Bryant on that list.
And Jordan took the bait, ranking James behind Bryant for one simple reason — #ringz:
“Would I rank LeBron over Kobe in terms of best of all time?” Jordan told campers during an informal Q&A session. “No. There’s something about five that beats three. … Kobe won five championships. LeBron won three. Although, he’s been to seven Finals or something like that.”
That would be seven straight Finals and eight overall. True enough, LeBron is 3-5 in championship series. Bryant finished his career 5-2 with a title on the line. We all should agree this is not the best way to determine who is a better basketball player, since, by this logic alone, Robert Horry and pretty much anyone on the 1960s Boston Celtics would rank higher than Jordan based solely on ring count.
Now, Jordan may just be using titles as a tiebreaker between two great players, which seems fair, so long as you think Prime LeBron and Prime Kobe would have produced the same Finals records if they swapped teams. I, for one, find it hard to believe the 2004 Lakers would have lost in five games to the Detroit Pistons had Prime LeBron been playing with Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone — and even harder to fathom Prime Kobe beating the 73-win Golden State Warriors with the 2016 Cavs.
Now, maybe Kobe would’ve beaten the Dallas Mavericks with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2011, but keep in mind he only won two Finals MVP awards and probably didn’t deserve the one in 2010. LeBron won Finals MVP all three times he won the title and probably deserved the award when he lost in 2015.
Statistically, there is no comparison between the two players. LeBron beats Kobe every which way:
• LeBron’s career averages: 27.1 points (58.4 true shooting percentage), 7.3 rebounds, seven assists and 2.4 combined blocks and steals, along with a 27.6 player efficiency rating and 205.4 win shares.
• Kobe’s career averages: 25 points (55 true shooting percentage), 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.9 combined blocks and steals, along with a 22.9 player efficiency rating and 172.7 win shares.
We could list more lopsided statistics, like LeBron’s four regular-season MVPs to Kobe’s one, but we’ll limit this list to the essentials. So, what about the playoffs, you say? Well, that’s a similar trouncing:
LeBron: 28.4 points (57.4 true shooting percentage), 8.9 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.8 combined blocks/steals, along with a 27.9 player efficiency rating and 45.8 win shares.
Kobe: 25.6 points (54.1 true shooting percentage), 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.1 combined blocks/steals, along with a 22.4 player efficiency rating and 28.3 win shares.
Kobe’s greatest virtue was his ability to score, and LeBron has him beat in both points per game and shooting percentage. Throw in LeBron’s playmaking, rebounding and ability to defend all five positions, and there’s really no argument, even if Jordan and others are still willing to debate it.
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