By Nathan Krohn
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Few attempt to refute this statement because of its unanimous acceptance amongst players, analysts, fans and the like. As is the case in most scenarios when someone is the best ever to do what they do, when they are gone we look everywhere for someone to be as good or better.
Any fan of basketball has undoubtedly heard the phrase “the next Michael Jordan” before. It’s been placed on players who have exemplified certain traits of his airness but never had the whole package. Some could jump but not shoot or shoot but not defend. Some could do everything right but will a team to victory, hit the game winning shot and be the hero.
When LeBron James entered the NBA directly out of high school he was touted as “the chosen one” and possibly the next Jordan. James, who is 6 feet 8 inches and 250 pounds, is taller, bigger, faster, and more athletic then Jordan.
No one disputes LeBron is one of the best players in the game today and possibly a future hall of famer, but the “next Jordan” whispers have disappeared and has lack of a championship ring has made some label him as a failure.
Living up to such lofty expectations of being the next best player to ever play the sport can be difficult to say the least.
Recently, Jordan was quoted saying, “Kobe is the only one to have done the work to deserve comparison.” This is high praise from Jordan, who played in the league with Bryant for four years.
The comparison may also be as true as we ever get to finding someone on the same level as Jordan. Bryant has five championships, 13 all-star selections, nine NBA all first teams and nine all defensive first teams. His stats aren’t as impressive as Jordan’s but his career isn’t over yet either.
Bryant, who turned 33 last August, was thought by many to be heading towards the decline of his career after an early playoff exit last year. Injuries to his wrist and fingers on his shooting hand have been nagging for several years and have become worse as a result of Bryant playing through the pain.
An aging Bryant, a new coach in Mike Brown, and a team that had seemingly regressed with the trade of Lamar Odom suddenly became the second best team in Los Angeles behind the Clippers, who had just rejuvenated the franchise with the acquisition of all-star Chris Paul.
Whispers about his diminishing skills were quickly nullified when Bryant poured at least 40 points in four consecutive games. Doubts about the team also disappeared as the Lakers currently have a record of 10-5 and are the three seed in the Western conference.
While Bryant’s reputation was marred with the sexual assault charge in 2003, making some reluctant to consider a man with a tarnished past one of the best players ever, his numbers speak for themselves. He is one of the hardest workers and greatest competitors in the NBA today. He has that killer instinct in the fourth quarter that’s led to his nickname “the black mamba.”
Like Jordan, who retired three separate times before calling it quits for good, Bryant will have a difficult time letting the game go. He’s just too much of a competitor to end his career anytime soon. When it’s all said and done, it should be an interesting conversation of who is the best player of all time. Some say it will always be Jordan, but don’t sleep on Bryant.