Jordan never had a Shaq. True, and Kobe never had a Hall of Fame swingman like Scottie Pippen. Or a rebound-munching forward as Dennis Rodman was in his prime. You think he wouldn't be handy to have around? Why, yes, Dennis, I would like to shoot again, thanks!
Jordan won 10 scoring titles. Kobe's got zilch. I watched Kobe score 56 in three quarters against Memphis last season—the man could win a scoring title wearing Muppet slippers. But many nights he has to put his ego in a jar to keep Shaq-Fu happy and well-fed with points. Plus, Kobe has the burden of handling the rock an awful lot-more than Jordan. "I'm not saying it's harder," says Kobe, "but it consumes a lot more energy, having those little guards crawling on you all the time. It's definitely more running."
Kobe doesn't D-up like Jordan. True, but he's learning. He's increased his steals from 1.48 a game last season to 2.24 this season. He's averaging a career-best 7.0 rebounds, too. Jordan only beat that once. He's got the Bally's body at 24 that Jordan didn't build until he was 30.
I don't see six rings on Kobe's fingers. Let's say Kobe retires when Jordan will, at 40. That means he'd play 23 seasons. You think Kobe can't get four more rings in the next 16 seasons? "Seven rings, eight rings, nine rings," Kobe says, "I don't care. I just want to win. Every year."
Yeah, well, the world will never love Kobe as much as Jordan. True, but maybe that's because Michael came first. If the order had been reversed, would Kobe have the IMAX movies, the jingles and the shoes? Would Michael be the one wearing Kobe's throwback at the All-Star Game?
They said nobody would ever punk Ruth's numbers. Then came Aaron. They said nobody would go lower than Nicklaus. Then came Tiger. Just roll the possibility around on your tongue for a second: Kobe Bryant could end up the greatest player in NBA history.
"Ooh," says Kobe, "you just gave me goose bumps."
The feeling is mutual.