Around this time last year, I wrote a post lampooning those who would compare Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. And for the most part, I feel the same way. It’s nothing against Kobe, but Jordan is Jordan. Even if you can put up numbers like his in games like his with a style like his, you’ll still never be able to surpass his legend.
To emerge from a shadow like this, you’ve gotta make your own legend. Eddy Merckx is the Jordan of cycling. During a five year stretch at the peak of his career, Merckx won one out of every three races he started. He dominated opponents in the fastest sprints, the toughest cobblestones and the highest mountains. And you know why you never heard of Eddy Merckx? Because Lance Armstrong won 7 Tours de France in a row.
This year’s NBA Finals were significant for Kobe. No disrespect to his current supporting cast, but they don’t hold a candle to any of Jordan’s teams, or the 2000-2002 LA title squads. Kobe was in a position to be The Man for LA, and this time he came through. 30-plus points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in each of the games? Those are Jordan numbers—literally.
So how else to step out of MJ’s bald, large-eared shadow? I’ve got a few suggestions that I think will let Kobe create his own legacy in the annals of the NBA.
Make Your Own Records—Jordan is (at long last) done with the NBA record books. But rather than compete against history, Bryant might to better to take on a few challenges Jordan never thougth of. The press loved Kobe’s 61-point record-setter at MSG this February. Granted, Madison Square is the Mecca, but collecting the full-set of NBA arena records would be huge.
Focus on Spectacle—MJ was a rockstar spokesman, who handled fame with aplomb. Kobe, not so much. But I think Number 24 could actually use his aversion to the spotlight as an advantage. Rather than constant exposure, shoot for fewer, high profile appearances. Case in point: Bryant was awesome as the face of the Redeem Team at last summer’s Olympics. Focus on one-off events—maybe try and turn the 2012 All-Star game into a 50th Anniversary of Wilt’s 100 point performance at Hersheypark.
Beat the Legends Alone—Though he was always amazing, it wasn’t until the development of his supporting cast—especially Scottie Pippen—that the Bulls of the 1990s were able to overcome seriously good teams in playoff situations. Defeating a revived Boston Big Three—or better yet the newly-forged Shaq/LeBron partnership—with the current Lakers squad would make Kobe’s performances stand out separately from Jordan’s.
Love The Game—Kobe, I know you love basketball. But man, sometimes I feel like you’re just out there to make money. You always get so sour when the screws are on. If that’s your on-court demeanor, so be it—change your court. Get caught on cell phone cameras goofing around at a pick-up game somewhere. Take a basketball out on a jog every once in a while. You don’t even have to talk to anyone—just play and have a good time. Secretly, I know you want to.
Change The Game—When Jordan started losing a step in his 30s, he enlisted a variety of new maneuvers to create space in front of his jumper. It converted the turnaround from a low-percentage, desperation move into a must-have weapon in every player’s arsenal. His Airness’s second retirement began seconds after a beautiful (and some would say illegal) jumper—it would be nice to see Kobe put his signature on the game in a similar fashion (and maybe be a little more serious about retiring).