Where does Kobe's legacy stand now?

June, 14, 2008

I did several radio interviews on Friday, one day after the Staples Center collapse, and more than a few of the hosts wanted to know if Kobe Bryant's legacy as an all-time great was now forever tainted.

My answer was simple:

No way.

This has happened to the best of them.

Remember, all those horrific moments Magic Johnson had in the Lakers' 1984 Finals loss to Boston? How, with Game 2 tied, he dribbled out the clock at the end of regulation. Seconds earlier, the great James Worthy had an inbounds pass stolen by Gerald Henderson that enabled Boston to tie it, and the Celtics went on to win in overtime.

Then, in Game 4, Magic had several terrible turnovers as the Lakers blew a five-point lead with less than a minute to play. His worst was an attempted post-feed that he threw right into the arms of Robert Parish. Oh yeah, Magic also missed two free throws in OT.

I hate to bring this up at this sensitive point in time, but I remember my dad saying, "Man, if you didn't know better, you'd think Magic was throwing that series,'' in a conversation with friends.

For the record, the Broussards don't think the fix was in, but Magic's play was truly that tragic.

And what about Isiah Thomas, one of the game's greatest competitors/warriors/winners, having his inbounds pass stolen by Larry Bird in the final seconds of Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals. Detroit was about to go up three games to two (and probably reach the NBA Finals) before Isiah's pass led to Dennis Johnson's game-winning layup.

Or how about Jerry West losing six Finals to the Celtics in the 1960s, or the fact that "The Logo" played four seasons with a healthy Wilt Chamberlain and won just one ring?

Or that Larry Bird never won a title without at least two Hall of Fame, Top 50 teammates?

I could go on and on because as I said, it's happened to the best of them.

Actually, let me amend that statement: It's happened to the best of the rest.

It never happened to the best; that being Michael Jordan, of course.

I'm purposely overlooking Jordan's initial comeback season of 1994-95 when Orlando's Nick Anderson stole the ball from him because MJ, having played only 17 regular-season games, clearly wasn't himself.

Back to my main point:

Kobe is easily an all-time great, and as I've said before, the second-best shooting guard ever.

But the MJ comparisons should stop.

As awesome as he is, Kobe is no Michael Jordan. Period. Like Magic and West, and Bird and Oscar, he's among the best of the rest.

There can't be a person on earth who believes Jordan would ever let his team drop a 24-point lead in the NBA Finals, especially in such a must-win game.

Here are a few facts to ponder:

Jordan made the playoffs every year of his career with the Chicago Bulls (let's throw out his final comeback with the Washington Wizards). Kobe, of course, failed to make the playoffs in 2005 despite playing with Caron Butler and Lamar Odom.

In his early years, Jordan was carrying cats like Quintin Dailey, Dave Corzine and Gene Banks to the playoffs.

Only once in his career did a Jordan-led team ever lose a playoff series after grabbing the series lead. That occurred in 1989 when his Bulls took a 2-1 lead over Detroit's bad boys before eventually falling 4-2. Kobe's Lakers, of course, blew a 3-1 lead to Phoenix in 2006.

And the biggest lead a Jordan-led team ever blew in the Finals was 13 points, and the circumstances weren't nearly as dire for his Bulls as they were for Kobe's Lakers on Thursday night.

Jordan's Bulls led Portland 2-1 and went ahead 22-9 in the first quarter of Game 4 of the 1992 Finals. Portland came back to win the game and tie the series, but Chicago took the next two games.

That game was probably one of Jordan's worst in the Finals as he went scoreless for the final 10 minutes and 26 seconds while Portland took control with a 15-6 run. Still, Jordan finished with 32 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Hard to call that bad.

How about Jordan winning the Finals MVP award six times? No other player has won it more than three times, and Kobe hasn't won it once.

Have you checked Jordan's career stats in the Finals?

33.6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.4 turnovers on 48 percent shooting in 43 minutes per game.

In his first Finals against the Lakers in 1991, Jordan averaged 31 points, 11 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 56 percent from the floor.

He averaged 35.8 points on 53 percent shooting the next year against Portland, and 41 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 51 percent shooting the following year against Phoenix.

And we're really comparing Kobe Bryant to him?

Look, Kobe is fabulous, arguably a Top 10 player of all-time.

But until he wins several rings without Shaq, don't ever fix your mouth to say he's as good as Jordan was.

Thursday's game was just the latest evidence.


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