By Ben Golliver
The Greatest Of All Time has weighed in on the most-discussed NBA debate in recent years, choosing to side with the bling.
In an upcoming NBA TV interview, Michael Jordan said he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James because the former has won five championships while the latter has only one title to his name.
"If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it, and not that he [LeBron James] won’t get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one."
Yahoo! Sports reported that James did his best to play off the comments.
"It doesn't matter to me. If you take Kobe one and I go second, it doesn't matter. I don't get too involved in what guys say about me or if you take Kobe or if you take LeBron. As long as I'm on the floor and I make plays for my teammates, I don't do what I do for other people's approval."
The James comparisons have reached a fever pitch in recent weeks as the reigning MVP has scored 30+ points and shot 60+ percent from the field in six consecutive games, the first time that has been done in NBA history. After a slow start -- at least by their standards -- the Heat entered Thursday a full 3.5 games ahead of the Knicks for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After a 2012 that saw him win MVP, Finals MVP, his first title, an Olympic gold medal and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award, James looks poised to continue his dominance through another postseason.
Earlier this week, with the comparisons to Jordan raging again, James tweeted that he was his own man.
"I'm not MJ, I'm LJ," he wrote.
Clearly he's not KB, either.
There are a million ways to slice the "Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Kobe" question and Jordan has taken a popular tact. Rather than focus on who would win a one-on-one game, who is a better two-way player, or who was better at a certain point in their respective careers, Jordan has opted for the long-view approach. Who has enjoyed more postseason success and whose body of work is therefore more impressive?
It's not exactly a big shock that Bryant, 34, has achieved more than James, 28, to date. In a way, this approach is a cop-out because it delays true consideration of the question until James is able to accumulate enough rings to re-open the discussion. Rings obviously aren't the only measure of greatness among NBA players, although they are certainly an important factor and can be a helpful tie-breaker. Here, the argument is fairly useless because the two players are separated by more than a half-decade in age.
There's some protectionism taking place on Jordan's behalf, too. You don't need to be a math major or even understand the transitive property to realize that if five beats one every time, Jordan's six rings beat both five and one every time. When Jordan sets up Bryant as a standard for James to chase on these terms, he discreetly puts himself that extra step higher than both, delaying the incessant comparisons between himself and James that much longer.
James is coming after both Bryant and Jordan, and he's coming after them hard. He's ahead of Bryant's record-setting scoring pace and his advanced statistics compare very favorably to Jordan's at similar points in their respective careers. If he continues at his current pace, James will have a huge advantage over Jordan when it comes to career numbers because he entered the NBA from high school and didn't sojourn to the Birmingham Barons during the middle of his prime. Eventually, Jordan's best argument against James will come down to dominance: Jordan reigned supreme over the NBA for the better part of a decade, racking up titles throughout.
Jordan hints at this in the NBA TV interview as well, noting that the Bulls' may not have achieved their full championship potential.
“We have to live the rest of our lives with this idea of … wow we could have won seven … or we could have won eight … or we could have won nine. We could have done all that.”
That number could have been even higher had he not stepped away from the game, costing the Bulls the 1994 and 1995 titles in the process. James will, when all is said and done, be stacked against what Jordan accomplished and also what he left on the table. Fair or unfair, Jordan's legend will demand it.
This round of comments from Jordan doesn't really advance the discussion at all. James will need the rings to validate his absurd statistics. He knows that, Jordan knows that and Bryant knows that. They all know that each other know that, too. They all know that we, as observers, know that as well.
The smartest takeaway to be found here: don't count James out. Five more rings is not an impossibility; he's shown no signs of wearing down and his luck with injuries to date has been impeccable. His focus on winning has been honed and he's responded to his first taste of success with a full pursuit aimed at getting back to the summit again. Simply put, James is on track to make this a much more interesting and nuanced debate than it is right now.