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Kobe is being like Michael Jordan

June 9, 2008

by Matt Kane

Recently, I’ve heard some talk about whether at this point in his career Kobe Bryant is comparable to Michael Jordan.

I would have to say, yes.

Comparing the two, Jordan has six NBA championship rings, five MVP awards and was a 14-time all-star. At the age of 29, Kobe has three NBA championship rings, one MVP award, is a 10-time all-star, and he was the youngest player to score 20,000 points in the NBA when he reached the mark Dec. 23 of last year.

Jordan is thought of as the NBA’s greatest player ever, and why not? He could take over a game, but at the same time he was a true team leader, who made his teammates better by his own play.

Kobe surely can take over a game (remember the 81 points Jan. 22, 2006 against the Raptors?), but the latter of the two points may have been hard to argue for Bryant in past years. He didn’t seem to make his teammates better, but that may have changed this year when guys like Lamar Odem and Pau Gasol had and are still having their best seasons as a pro.

There are a couple of things that may keep Kobe from being known as a better basketball player than Jordan, and, unfortunately, none of them have to do with actually playing basketball.

The first is Kobe’s reputation. More specifically, having the reputation as an unfaithful spouse.

Even though all charges accusing him of raping a woman in Eagle, Colo. in the summer of 2003 were dropped, charges like those tend to stay with a person, especially a person of Bryant’s fame.

It doesn’t matter where Bryant goes for the rest of his career, idiot fans who are just looking for a reason to ride a guy will pull out the rape card — usually because they can’t think of anything else to harass Bryant with.

Jordan was never accused of raping a woman during his NBA career, and, instead, was looked at as the ultimate role model for kids. I mean, the guy played basketball with Daffy Duck in Space Jam. That ranks him with Santa Claus.

That Space Jam movie is a small part of the real reason I think Jordan is looked at as a god. A lot of Jordan’s aura has to do with what he accomplished on the basketball court, but I also think him becoming a walking billboard for dozens of products played a big factor in his Elvis-like status.

Nike put Jordan at a level where no other athlete, and I’m not sure anyone else, had been at when they named a high-top shoe after him and put him in a commercial with Spike Lee.

Nike started the Jordan craze, and then fueling it even more was McDonalds, Gatorade, Wheaties, Ball Park hot dogs and Rayovac batteries, to name a few.

Bryant has or had endorsement deals with Reebok, Nike, Sprite, McDonalds, and I’m sure several more, but he will never become the icon Jordan became. In fact nobody will. When Jordan first started pimping products, nobody else was doing it to that extreme. He started the athlete-endorsement craze, and I don’t think anybody else will be able to match the popularity he has gained from all the attention.

So, basically, even though Kobe may be as good of a basketball player as Jordan, he will probably never be as popular, by default.

Look at the Celtics’ great Bill Russell. He won 11 NBA rings, but was not a product pitchman the way Jordan was and is.

Although some old-timers regard Russell as the greatest player, he is often forgotten because he is not seen drinking Gatorade during Super Bowl commercial breaks.

The Kobe vs. Jordan debate will probably live on for a long-long time, and maybe forever, but I would guess in 20 years, when both are retired, Jordan will still get the nod as the NBA’s greatest player.

Then again, if Kobe wins the NBA title this month, then adds two more rings, and does a movie with Woody Woodpecker, maybe he will take over the throne from His Airness.