The Black Mamba and Air Jordan. This comparison is one that will be made for years to come because of a multitude of reasons, namely the fact that these premiere NBA scorers are the two greatest shooting guards of all time. And while the argument that Jordan revolutionized the sport is valid, I will remove that consideration and take a closer look at Kobe and Jordan’s respective statistics (regular season and playoffs), awards (including championship titles), and clutch performing—which these two guys are generally considered some of the best ever.
This column seeks to provide a complete comparison of these NBA greats and show you who ultimately is both the better and the greater player. And as I always like to turn to first, let’s have a look at the regular season statistics of Kobe and Jordan:
Per game statistics
Note: All stats for Bryant are as of 11/20/12
Really there’s not much to debate here, Jordan is clearly the better regular season performer. The only statistic that Kobe has an edge in is three-point percentage, and that advantage is by a whole one percentage point. Truthfully, Kobe’s first three years did set him behind a bit, but even if you eliminate those years from consideration, he still has less points (27.8) and fewer assists (5.1) while most other categories remain relatively constant.
Kobe is known primarily for being a scorer and not only did Jordan score more than Kobe does, but Jordan also shot a significantly higher percentage—hence the large disparity in PER.
Now, how about playoff statistics?
Playoff per game statistics
Same story—only this time Jordan owns the better numbers in every single category. Something else worth noting is the relative improvement/decline of each players’ numbers from regular season to playoffs. Kobe’s stats remain relatively constant, with an insignificant increase in points as well as small increases in rebounds, assists, and minutes per game. However, his FG percentage, PER, and eFG percentage all decrease. And while comparing separate players PER may not be the greatest statistical measure, it is reasonable to look at an individual players increase/decrease in this number.
In utter contrast, Jordan’s points, rebounds, assists, and minutes per game all increase, as well as his three-point percentage. But he does have slight decreases in FG and eFG percentages as well as steals per game. But in the end, Jordan clearly has the better playoff numbers.
Of course, statistics do not tell the entire story and the major argument for Kobe Bryant as a great NBA player is his five championship titles. And while that may look favorably upon the Black Mamba in a comparison of Kobe and LeBron James, it does not do the same when comparing Kobe to Jordan.
Here is a chart of their respective playoff accolades and overall achievements/awards as of November 2012.
5x NBA champion
6x NBA champion
2x NBA Finals MVP
6x NBA Finals MVP
NBA Defensive Player of the Year
NBA Rookie of the Year
2x scoring champ
10x scoring champ
This drives home the proof that there truly is not much of a competition in this comparison. Jordan has more titles, but more importantly he demolishes Kobe in Finals MVPs which is a much more telling tale of a great champion. Why? For three of Kobe’s championship titles he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Seriously, it’s like saying Derek Fisher’s five titles (all won as a teammate of Kobe Bryant) are equal to Kobe’s when comparing a player’s legacy.
That is as fallacious of a statement as saying that Kobe, as a champion, is on the same level as Jordan.
So, we stand firm at a measly one MVP award to a five-time MVP.
Then comes the Defensive Player of the Year award differential. Clearly, Jordan was a shut-down defender. And not only do I think that Kobe is an overrated defender, but so does his former coach, Phil Jackson. To quote the 11-time champion Zen Master on Kobe’s All-Defense First Team awards: “The voters have been seduced by his remarkable athleticism and spectacular steals, but he hasn’t played sound, fundamental defense.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I would never have gone to betting sites with the intention of putting money on Kobe's Lakers keeping high-powered offenses of the early and mid-00s under 95 points consistently. The 2001 Lakers, for instance, had the seventh-worst offense in the league.
And what about those scoring titles? Kobe is supposed to be the greatest scorer in the league right? For one, two players, one of which has been in the league far shorter than Kobe, have more scoring titles than he does. Yup, Allen Iverson and Kevin Durant both reigned supreme as the NBA’s leading scorer three times each during Kobe’s career. So there could even be a debate if Kobe is the best scorer of his own generation!
Then there’s Michael Jordan. 10 scoring titles says it all—he netted baskets like nobody else, and is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the all-time record of career points per game. Kobe isn’t even in the top 10.
If by now you still aren’t thoroughly convinced that Jordan is far superior to Kobe, there is one more thing to drive home that point: clutchness. This analysis comes in two forms: greatness during the playoffs and performance in the final 24 seconds of a game.
One’s performance in playoffs is “clutch” in the sense that it provides a glimpse into whether or not you can get it done in the games that matter most. Jordan’s six Finals MVPs to Kobe’s two only begin to tell the story. If you look at the greatest playoff performances of all time, Kobe has a grand total of zero in the top 10 compared to Jordan’s three which include the renowned “Flu Game,” as well as the 63 point game and the free throw jumper over Bryon Russell to seal the 1998 NBA Finals win for the Bulls. Not sold? Well, ESPN only gives Kobe one top-25 playoff performance all time (Jordan’s name appears eight times).
Is it any closer in terms of “last-second” shots?
Chasing 23lists every single clutch shot of Jordan’s career, where clutch is defined as “shot attempts made with the intent to either win or tie the game within the final 24 seconds, during which a player’s team is either tied or trails by three or fewer points.” The final verdict Jordan is 9 of 18 in such situations—or an astounding 50 percent. How about Kobe? A similar study finds Kobe with an unimpressive 7 of 27, or 26 percent.
In other words, Jordan is about twice as good as Kobe in last-second shot situations.
Kobe is a great player and deserves to be on the same playing field as some of the greatest of all time, but the reality is that he is significantly inferior to Jordan. Stats, awards, clutch performing, it all points in the same direction: Kobe vs. Jordan may be a comparison, but it is not a very competitive one.
If you liked this comparison, check out our series of comparisons that includes: Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Jordan, and Kobe vs. Duncan.
Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan Comparison
Head-to-head comparison between the NBA stars Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant that includes championships won, honors and awards obtained, regular season and playoffs stats and other data put side by side.
Who scored more points in his career? Who averaged more points in playoffs? Who won more championships? Who led the season more times? Who won more MVP awards? Those questions and many more, are answered here. It includes NBA Championships, seasons, playoffs, awards, statistical data for points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and percentages.
Head To Head Comparison
NBA Regular Season Stats
Stats Per Game
Best Season (no game minimum)
NBA Playoffs Stats
Stats Per Game