January 19, 2018

When I saw these two games being aired on the same day, I immediately got excited about a dueling breakdown. Both players shot almost the exact same field goal percentage, but it was striking to me how differently these two players scored their points. While the box score below indicates similar games, there are much more subtle differences in their methods.

Kobe Bryant’s 81 Point Game vs the Toronto Raptors

Michael Jordan’s 69 Point Game vs the Cleveland Cavaliers

Some things to clear up about how different the circumstances were between these two teams. Michael Jordan was playing on a young Bulls team a year away from capturing their first title. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were just starting to figure out the secret to competing at an elite level, joining Michael Jordan who was in the midst of his 4th straight scoring title. Kobe Bryant, on the flip side, was a year and a half out of competing for a title with Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone. Smush Parker and Kwame Brown were running around out there with him, forcing Kobe to shoulder a much larger load.

The competition was also much different in these two games. While the 1989-90 Cleveland Cavaliers finished just above .500 (42-40), they were still a formidable foe with a tough nucleus of Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance, and Brad Daugherty intact. Coached by Lennie Wilkens, they were smart, tough, and played with a sense of purpose. Contrast that to the 2005-06 Toronto Raptors, and you’ll see why it wasn’t so surprising Kobe went off on them. Led by Sam Mitchell, who has a career winning percentage of .452, this team featured a young Chris Bosh and not much else. Moe Peterson was forced to guard Kobe, and ended up intentionally fouling him by the end to get out of this assignment. Jalen Rose was at the end of his string and was no match either. Top that off with a distinct lack of defensive philosophy, and it was a perfect storm.

The Chicago Bulls Have All The Luck

Aside from the circumstantial evidence, the biggest thing I took away from this juxtaposition is how different these two moved in space. Michael Jordan seems so much more smooth and powerful in comparison to Kobe’s athletic ability. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe is an athletic freak of nature, but Michael transcended that like no other player in the league before or since. Michael also seemed steadier with his scoring, without the need to force as many shots, while Kobe had a couple of clunky stretches that wouldn’t seem to indicate he was in the middle of one of the greatest scoring binges of all time.

Whether this comparison is unfair or not, Kobe has done little to discourage it. His career will go down as one of the top 10 of all time, with induction to the Hall of Fame a certainty. Of course, his career still falls short of Jordan’s, both in individual achievement and team accomplishments. From a head to head perspective, Kobe does not exist in the same plane as Michael Jordan. There is no shame in that, since no other player combined raw physical tools with extreme mental domination like MJ did. While this is certainly an entertaining and worthwhile debate, I might go so far as saying Kobe Bryant isn’t even the best Laker of all time.


Coach Nick

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

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  • No one can surpass Jordan. Ever.

    The funny thing is, I think Kobe actually has the skills and potential to match Jordan (maybe surpass, if it’s even possible). It’s just he chose to work outside of the offense with iso’s and difficult shots for much of his career. He’s smart enough to know the game, but just doesn’t do it (kind of like how the Clippers don’t listen to Vinny Del Negro). Maybe that’s just his nature — oh well. Something he’ll have to live with, but being the top 10 isn’t a terrible thing. lol Proud to be a fan of both.

    As for being the best Laker of all time, I think time will tell since his career isn’t even over yet. Then again, what even constitutes for being “the best Laker of all time”?

  • I think Kobe is shorter in potential. Phil Jackson said that his hands are much smaller than those of MJ which limits his ability to control the ball better.

  • You must be crazy……..this whole story is not only slanted and bias….it is also a sad try at even comparing a fast 81 point accomplishment to a lowly 69 point game……i swear it is like the older jordan gets the better he was…..jordan used to be the best ever sadly thew world don’t stop just because he quit people are still playing basketball and they are getting better and better deal with it move on get with the times

  • that dude is a narrow minded prick first of all its 81. and 63 points obviously 81 is more and kobe done his and 42 minutes were Michael Jordan was on the floor for 50 minutes and Michael Jordan had mark price guarding him really competition

  • Jordan also had 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks. It’s not even about how many minutes you play. Kobe took 9 more shots in his 42 minutes of play than Jordan did in his 50 minutes. Kobe managed 6 rebounds in 42 minutes of play is not shabby, but he took 9 more shot attempts. Also, Jordan was grabbing 18 rebounds during his time on the floor. that takes a lot of effort, wouldn’t you say? Doesn’t that 12 extra rebounds means you contributed and awful lot on stats that sometimes don’t seem to mean as much to people who only look at points scored.

  • kobe clearly had the better shooting game, but MJ had the overall stats.. kind of a guy who does it all..

  • I just watched the two games. I agree 100% with “Coach Nick” – Jordan had to overcome an inspired performance by the Cavaliers, and Scottie Pippen played one of the worst games by a “top 50 player” in the history of the NBA. Jordan’s ability to get into any space on the court he desires, his uncanny anticipation on defense, his hand quickness, and his absolute lack of wasted movement are unmatched. I hadn’t watched a Jordan video in years. It reminded me that not only was he the greatest basketball player of all time, he was also the most beautiful.

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