Answering questions at a basketball camp, Hall of Fame guard Michael Jordan was asked by a camp attendee whether he would rank LeBron James over Kobe Bryant.
“There’s something about five that beats three,” Jordan responded, indicating how many rings Bryant has compared to James. “Would I rank LeBron over Kobe? In terms of best all-time? No.”
Jordan’s answer has sparked and revived some old barbershop talk about who’s been the better heir apparent to “His Airness” since Jordan retired. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate whether Jordan was justified in ranking Kobe over LeBron.
Riley: Bryant has more rings but I think James’ impact has been much larger. From high school to today, James has been influencing headlines and growing his brand. The fact that he left for Miami, won back-to-back rings, and then returned to Cleveland to win the franchise’s first championship after his controversial departure is a story unequalled in the NBA. If you’re starting a franchise today and drafting a high schooler, then James has to be that first pick. He wins and he makes teams better. What else could you ask for?
Green: James wins, but Bryant wins more. Bryant was more skilled in his prime and had the type of demeanor a team needs come clutch time. Those are two areas James had to develop over his career. Jordan’s drive was inherited by Bryant, but that’s not a knock on James as it is a compliment to Bryant. We saw James go missing in his early career whenever things got tight, but Bryant was always ready to take the big shot whether it was miss or make. The two extra championships he Kobe has over LeBron aren’t by coincidence; Bryant simply drove himself and his team harder and the difference is what gives him the edge over James.
Riley: A player’s will and drive should never be questioned, and it gets silly hearing that LeBron doesn’t want it as much—if not more—than any other player. Four MVPs and seven Finals appearances suggest he’s doing his best to compete. I think James takes a bad rap for his pass-first persona and comparing him to flat-out scorers like Jordan and Bryant doesn’t work. For what James does, and for what he has already done, he’s definitely the heir apparent to Jordan, if not better. The accolades, branding, wins, championships, MVPs and accomplishments are through the roof.
Green: I think even James knows he wasn’t as good as Bryant, and he may even admit it. Having that type of alpha dog mentality that Jordan and Kobe shared simply gives you the edge against your competition. Sure, we love to see guys get other players involved and share the ball and bring teammates together, but we also loved seeing Jordan and Kobe take over in clutch time. Bryant became “The Black Mamba” whenever the game was tight and we loved him for that. When the skillset and accolades are nearly identical, it simply comes down to who do you want with the ball in their hands come game time and Bryant gets the nod for me. Would you take Kobe over LeBron with five seconds left in the game? I would, Monday through Saturday, and twice on Sundays.