Below is the second guest post by my great friend Kevin Chen.
MJ vs. Kobe
By Kevin Chen
Seeing excerpts from Phil Jackson’s new book about how Michael Jordan is superior to Kobe Bryant has prompted me to write about a topic that has fascinated me for some time – the debate over who’s the greatest of all time. I have a lot of thoughts on how that title should be determined in general in any sport, but for now, let’s stick with the issue at hand – Michael vs. Kobe. And my assertion is this: if Kobe had been thinking with his very intelligent head rather than with his super-sized ego, he would have realized that best chance he had to surpass Jordan was to convince Shaquille O’Neil to stay with the Lakers, not to push him out the door. This is what Kobe should have realized: in order to surpass MJ, he had to win not just six championships, but MORE THAN six championships, to have a legitimate claim. AND, he had a much better chance of winning seven or more championships with Shaq than without Shaq.
Let’s look at the first argument – why does Kobe need more than six rings? Because the first three championships that Kobe won need to be significantly discounted because he was clearly not the best player, either in stats or in reality, on his own team during those championship runs; Shaq was. Shaq was the Finals MVP for all three of Kobe’s first three championships, just like MJ was the Finals MVP for all six of his championships. Magic Johnson is considered a greater player than Scottie Pippen even though Magic has five rings to Scottie’s six because for most or all of his championship runs, Magic was the best player on his team and Scottie was a very important second-best player on his team.
Certainly this is the very reason Kobe decided that Shaq had to go – because Kobe realized that in order to reach Jordan’s level, he had to win championships on a team where he clearly was the best player. Kobe recently reiterated as much – with comments like “You can’t expect Michael to play his entire career with Wilt” when asked why he didn’t want to stay together with Shaq. However, what he failed to realize was that, even if Shaq had stayed, Kobe STILL would have been able to win championships with himself as the clear best player on the Lakers because Shaq was on the downside of his career while Kobe was just coming into his peak; just because Shaq was staying did not mean that Kobe had to continue to play second fiddle. In fact, the pendulum was already swinging in the last two years that Kobe and Shaq played together, 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. And, even though Shaq was on the downside, he clearly was still a dominant center and likely would be for at least three or four years – look at what happened after he joined the Heat, when he played a very important second fiddle to D-Wade and helped D-Wade win his first championship. Kobe’s big miscalculation was that he thought he would continue to be second best to Shaq if Shaq stayed; given their age difference and where the two were at their respective careers at that time, that simply wasn’t going to happen (again, see what happened between D-Wade and Shaq in Miami).
If Kobe had Shaq’s help for the subsequent four or so seasons, the two of them together would have given the Lakers the best chance to win multiple championships during that stretch – in fact they probably would’ve been favored to win every year during that period. And, that would have given the Lakers’ management enough time to determine how to retool to keep the Lakers competitive later down the road (like 2009-2013), with Kobe still in his prime and Shaq slipping into retirement. All this would have been given Kobe the best chance of winning seven or more rings. It doesn’t mean it definitely would’ve happened, but it would’ve given him a better chance than what he decided to do: get rid of Shaq. Kobe should have realized that, with Shaq gone, the Lakers likely would not win championships for the subsequent three or four years, and because of this required retooling period, he was unlikely to have time to get to seven or more championships in his career. His best chance of surpassing MJ was with Shaq, and because of miscalculated ego, he let that opportunity slip away.