TMZ incorrectly reports that Tracy McGrady thinks Kobe Bryant was tougher to guard than Chicago-era Michael Jordan

Free agent swingman Tracy McGrady was spotted by TMZ at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, and after some prompting he decided to dive into a typical summertime, barroom NBA discussion:

At least one NBA star is willing to say it -- Kobe Bryant is a much tougher opponent than his airness, Michael Jordan was ... at least according to Tracy McGrady. (Pause for lightning bolts)

McGrady was responding to Kobe's recent comment that T-Mac was the hardest player he ever had to guard -- so, we expected him to throw a little praise back at Kobe.

But watch his comments at LAX -- McGrady wasn't just being nice ... and actually went out of his way to say it's "not even close" who his toughest assignment was on the court.

Remember, McGrady checked Jordan during MJ's final title run in Chicago ... when he was still making players look foolish.

That’s some real TMZ-level analysis right there. And if you watch the video on TMZ, you'll see McGrady mention that he didn't guard Jordan in his prime.

Tracy McGrady played against Jordan’s Chicago Bulls two times, as a rookie. I have both games on tape, somewhere in the garage, and I don’t recall McGrady ever lining up against Jordan in their first meeting. I do remember T-Mac picking up Jordan on a switch in the second, and a YouTube search confirmed those recollections 15 years on. Watch:

The reasons McGrady, despite his superior length and athleticism, didn’t guard Jordan is simple: T-Mac was a rookie just months out of high school, and no player defended Jordan better (in his return from retirement) than Toronto Raptors swingman Doug Christie. Christie was an absolute beast against MJ during his final three seasons in Chicago, and easily the defender that frustrated him most.

By the time Jordan returned three and a half years after leaving Chicago to join the Washington Wizards in 2001, he was a low-flying 38-year old shooting little beyond low-arching 20-footers, while T-Mac was putting together one of the best statistical runs of the last 25 years with the Orlando Magic. MJ averaged 19.8 points per game against Orlando during that run, hitting just under 40 percent of his shots from the field.

So, yeah, the toughest guy Tracy McGrady ever had to guard was Kobe Bryant. As well it should be. Kobe’s a beast.

And don’t listen to TMZ.