LeBron James has been a beast for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. He’s averaging a triple-double and picking up MVP votes, while also forcing the Cavaliers to a 9-4 record in the first month of the NBA season. So, what would Michael Jordan think? Responding to a question posed by Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, MJ had a simple answer: “I would say if I was on the team, or if I was a player, I would want LeBron to be my teammate because of his drive. … I would have to be on the team with Kobe Bryant because of his talent.”
During an interview with the New York Times in 2004, Michael Jordan responded to a question about which of the two basketball players he would rather have as a teammate. “Kobe Bryant is the better player today than LeBron James,” he said. “I mean, you pick LeBron as your best player today and you’d be right. Kobe is the better player today.”
As the 2013-2014 NBA season approached, the greatest rivalry in sports history was set to resume in earnest. LeBron James had spent the last two years playing alongside Dwyane Wade, and the two were expected to lead the Miami Heat forward in an all-out assault on the Golden State Warriors’ two-time defending NBA champions. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was coming off a season in which his Lakers were set to make it three straight Finals appearances, but had only failed to claim a single NBA title.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been likened to Michael Jordan more than any other player in the past two decades. While the Bryant analogy makes sense since he was basically a clone of MJ with greater range (yes, I said it), the LeBron connection has always perplexed me because the two players are so unlike. But, because that argument isn’t going away anytime soon, I’ve learned to accept it.
Both Kobe and LeBron, like Jordan, will be remembered as NBA legends for the rest of their lives. Regardless of where you stand on the endless and useless GOAT arguments, all three are among the best players in the sport’s history, and all three earned all they have (or will in James’ case). But, although Jordan vs. Kobe or Jordan vs. LeBron is a hot topic these days, we must remember that Kobe vs. LeBron was a contentious topic for almost a decade.
After Jordan retired for the last time in 2003, Bryant and James shared the NBA for 13 seasons, and they were undoubtedly the game’s two greatest stars during that time. Although the two never battled for an NBA championship (although they came close in 2009), it didn’t stop fans from deciding who was the superior player. Jordan even joined in the fun at one point and provided the kind of response one would anticipate from him when asked a question.
When Michael Jordan was forced to pick between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he chose Kobe Bryant.
Before we look at what Jordan replied when asked to pick between Kobe and LeBron, it’s important to understand when the “Kobe or LeBron” question was posed. Jordan’s 50th birthday was in 2013, and the answer was in 2013.
Bryant was almost three years removed from winning his sixth NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. While he was obviously towards the end of his career, he was still producing at a high level, averaging 27.3 points per game during the 2012-13 season. Of course, it was towards the conclusion of this season that he tore his Achilles tendon, thus ending his illustrious career.
When Jordan was interviewed, though, James had just won his first NBA championship with the Heat, and a few months later, he would lead the Heat to a second consecutive victory. That season, LeBron also earned his fourth NBA MVP award in five years.
So that was our situation at the time.
So that was our situation at the time.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images; Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images | LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant (L-R) | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images; Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Jordan was asked to pick between Kobe and LeBron in a long interview with his close buddy Ahmad Rashad, and he initially attempted to deflect by playfully taking Kevin Durant, who he subsequently claimed would likely sneak into the discussion via the back door. But then he became serious, as shown by his response:
“At this point, LeBron James is the undisputed king of the basketball court. In terms of championships, it’s Kobe Bryant. He’s so desperate for it that he’ll go to any length to have it. At 34, defending a man, guarding the point guards, and playing 38, 40 minutes is ridiculous. This, I believe, is what he’s up against. It’s just the way it is. He’s just as cursed as I am.
“It would be difficult to choose between the two, but five is better than one.”
In 2013, Michael Jordan spoke on Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James.
And there you have it. Jordan has a habit of mentioning the amount of titles he has won in these kinds of discussions, and this time was no exception.
Today, MJ’s response would most likely be the same.
Jordan, if given the same question today, I believe he would respond in the same manner. Bryant resigned in 2016 with the same five titles, sadly killed in a helicopter accident in January 2020. While James has narrowed the distance by winning the aforementioned second championship with the Heat as well as one apiece with the Cavaliers and Lakers, he is still one behind with four titles.
So, despite being the superior overall player and probably the greatest all-around player of all time, James is unlikely to be chosen in that debate, since Jordan would apparently prefer the “five beats four” argument. So it’s possible that the time of the inquiry didn’t matter all that much. Now all we have to do is wait and watch how this new Lakers superteam performs in order to see whether James can equal Bryant’s five championships and get closer to Jordan’s.
Basketball Reference provided the statistics.
Kobe Bryant had a winning record against Michael Jordan, and in their last battle, he even used MJ’s own “personal” tactic against him.
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