The big three: Lebron James Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
Grappling For The Greatest
As it often goes in sports comparisons are made. Who is the greatest running back? Who is the greatest boxer? And it is no different in basketball.
Since Lebron James entered the NBA in 2003 he, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have been thrown into the countless arguments of who is the greatest basketball player.
Without question all three are deserving of being in the conversation but who really is the best?
Comparisons are not always fair. Comparing different players or athletes from different eras can be tricky but they are still made.
Jordan, Kobe or Lebron?
Michael Jordan airborne
When Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 he made an immediate impact.
The league had never seen a player like Jordan before. He was 6'6" tall, lightning quick, could jump like a kangaroo and hang in the air as if suspended from wires dangling from the ceiling. His athletic ability was unmatched and his creativity when driving to the basket was breathtaking.
Although there had been similar players before him like Connie Hawkins, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving and David Thompson, none of them did it quite like Michael Jordan.
Jordan had an outstanding career at North Carolina University and showed that he could dominate the college basketball scene. In the summer following his junior year while playing against seasoned NBA players Jordan showed signs he could dominate at the professional level as well.
When he actually started playing in the NBA it was immediately evident that Jordan was playing at a different level than the rest of the league.
He routinely embarrassed defenders with mind-blowing drives that many times ended with rim-shaking dunks that left fans and players alike amazed.
It wasn't long before fans, analysts and players were calling Jordan the greatest to ever play the game.
But it wouldn't be long before there was a challenger.
Kobe Bryant shooting over tight defense
The Next Generation
Kobe Bryant arrived in the NBA with much fanfare. Without ever playing an NBA game he was already being touted as the next Michael Jordan.
The declaration came as a result of Bryant having a similar playing style to Jordan's.
During his high school years Kobe demonstrated an athleticism, creativity and dominance that were very reminiscent of Michael Jordan. He was even about the same size as his airness.
Bryant was so outstanding in high school that he received the Naismith High School Player of the Year Award as the best player in the country. After such a brilliant career many thought it was inevitable that he would go straight to the NBA and that is exactly what he did.
When Kobe arrived in Los Angeles the mindset of the Los Angeles Lakers management was to bring him along slowly and not throw him to the wolves right away. During his rookie season he came off the bench but in limited minutes showed flashes of what was to come.
Bryant actually played against Jordan in the NBA All-Star game as a rookie and made a very good showing while on the floor with his predecessor.
By his third year in the league Bryant emerged as a premier guard. His exploits were well known by this time and the comparisons with Michael Jordan grew.
As Bryant's career progressed and his accolades increased so did the controversy over who was best between him or Jordan.
Enter King James.
Lebron James driving to the basket
A New Legend
From the time that Lebron James was a freshman in high school he was looked upon as the next great player behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Maybe even better.
At 6'8" and 200 plus pounds with cat-quick speed and guard-like ball handling Lebron was a freak of nature.
No high school, college or professional basketball player had ever had the physical attributes of James combined with the skill level that he possessed.
Lebron was a matchup nightmare. Too quick to be guarded by a big player and too big and strong to be guarded by a smaller player.
In Akron James and his teams dominated their division in high school basketball winning three state titles in four years narrowly missing a fourth when James was a junior.
After a dominating and stellar high school career Lebron James did what everyone expected and went to the NBA.
Unlike any high school player that went straight to the NBA before him Lebron was deemed NBA ready. At 18 years of age he was built like a grown man. Weighing in at 250 pounds of muscle he looked every bit the part of a professional basketball player.
When Lebron stepped on the floor for the Cavaliers there was electricity in the air and it didn't take long for him to show the nation what they hype was all about.
He made an immediate impact on his team and the league and the rest as they say, is history.
MJ: Michael Jordan
Black Mamba: Kobe Bryant
King James: Lebron James
The Standard Bearer
So who is the greatest?
Jordan, Kobe and Lebron played at different times against different competition. Although Jordan and Kobe played the same position (shooting guard) they had different team makeups but played essentially the same role as primary scorers for their teams.
Lebron James plays the hybrid position of point forward and even though he has played the role of primary scorer as well there have been times he has relinquished that role.
As you watch the highlights above you will see some glaring differences in each players' circumstances however. In many of Jordan's drives to the rim you see him being challenged at the rim most of the time and still dunking over defenders. You see the same thing with Kobe but not as much with Lebron. Many of his jams are solo or unchallenged with players choosing to let him go rather than offer any resistance.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both hit a ton of game winning shots in their careers not so much so for Lebron. In fact Jordan and Bryant demanded the ball in those situations when in comparison Lebron at times has avoided taking the shot in the same situation.
In fact in a recent NBA All-Star game Kobe Bryant (playing for the west) got on Lebron James (playing for the east) for passing the ball instead of shooting it in the last seconds the game.
Jordan or Bryant never would have done that.
It might sound like I'm putting Lebron down but I'm just relating well known facts.
In this writer's estimation Michael Jordan still sits atop the Mount Rushmore of basketball.
Although Kobe and Lebron are great players in their own right, Michael Jordan is still the standard by which all players are judged after him.
His numbers speak for themselves. His teams have a 100% winning record in the NBA finals. Six trips. Six championships. If not for his excursion into baseball that number could very well be eight trips with eight championships.
Jordan was the finals MVP every time he was in the finals. He averaged 30 points per game in his career minus that foray with the Washington Wizards and the list goes on and on. But the most important statistic is wins and team influence.
Jordan made his teammates better and drove them to be winners. He was a leader who led by example. He was the hardest worker on his team and demanded no less from his teammates. The greatest measure of his greatness is how he was able to make his fellow players play to the best of their ability.
Jordan changed the standard by which the game is played and he remains the standard period.
The greatest among the three
Tony Daniels (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 26, 2014:
I can't argue with you on that Alphadogg16. What would Mike have done with Kareem or Ewing. Also the league was more physical when Jordan played. Every point in the paint was hard earned and many times you paid with blood.
Kevin W from Texas on June 26, 2014:
Being that I was born and raised in Chicago and have been a Bulls fan since before Michael Jordan....When Artis Gilmore and Orlando Woolridge were the main men....My opinion my be a little biased.....Lebron and KObe are definitely both great players and are the best of this era.....But there is no one that comes close to MJ. IF Michael Jordan had the most dominate center in the game in his prime (Shaq) patrolling the paint as Kobe did, the Bulls would have one 13 titles.