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In the world of basketball, it’s pretty unthinkable for anyone to compare themself to Michael Jordan. While there’s been some modern competition in the form of LeBron James, His Airness has earned himself a place atop the NBA’s history books. Kobe Bryant, however, apparently had another idea.

During his time in the Association, Kobe Bryant aspired to be like Mike; he and Jordan even developed quite a bond, eventually considering themselves brothers. On at least one occasion, though, the late Los Angeles Lakers star apparently said he was better than His Airness

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan had a special relationship

In isolation, neither Bryant nor Jordan was the easiest guy to get along with; both stars held themselves—and everyone around them—to high standards. Over time, however, they developed quite a special relationship with each other.

Bryant, like an entire generation of basketball fans, wanted to be just like Mike. He wasn’t content to simply stick out his tongue and throw down some slam dunks, though. The young guard was incredibly talented and, perhaps more importantly, willing to put in the work. It seems that eventually caught Jordan’s eye.

“If you just watched them interact in a game, Kobe always was like a magnet going toward Michael,” Jerry West once explained, according to ESPN. “Usually, Michael didn’t really interact with a lot of players when he was on the court. He’d just play. But for some reason, he had this affinity for him.”

The two men even developed enough of a bond to refer to each other as brothers. Jordan went as far as saying a piece of himself died when Kobe died in early 2020.

Kobe Bryant said he was better than His Airness

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan talk during a 1997 NBA game
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan meet on the court. | Vincent Laforet /AFP/Getty Images

Bryant, like Jordan, never took the court with anything less than a desire to be the best. According to a former Laker, he apparently believed he had accomplished that and done the unthinkable: surpass Michael Jordan.

“He said he was better than Mike,” Lamar Odom, who spent seven seasons with the Lakers, explained on the All The Smoke podcast. “I said, ‘What?’ but you’ve got to understand his drive. There ain’t too many dudes who play in the NBA that’s like, and they really mean it in their heart, that’s growing up, like, ‘I’m going to be better than LeBron James.’ That’s what he chased his whole life: to be just as good or mentioned with Michael Jordan.”

Based on the way he answered, it wasn’t clear if Odom had heard Kobe say he was better than Jordan repeatedly or as a one-off comment. Stephen Jackson, however, apparently heard similar sentiments.

“I know he did [say he was better than Jordan],” the co-host added. “He thought it. He thought it. You could tell he thought that way.”

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan both deserve their place in NBA history


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On the whole, trying to compare two different stars to debate their greatness isn’t the most worthwhile task. Just about every fan can agree, though, that Bryant and Jordan both earned a place in the NBA pantheon.

From a purely statistical perspective, MJ put up better numbers across the board; he averaged more points, rebounds, and assists per outing than Kobe across their careers and faced more physical defenders. If you care about championships, which can be a bit of a straw man, Jordan also comes out on top.

That’s not to say Byrant was some bum, though. He, in effect, became the next generation of basketball fans’ Michael Jordan; kids literally grew up tossing crumpled-up pieces of paper into garbage cans while yelling, “Kobe!” Even if we set aside all the statistical arguments, you don’t become that big of a pop-cultural presence by accident.

At the end of the day, it’s up to every individual fan to decide whether they think Bryant surpassed Jordan. The fact there’s even a debate about the two men, however, speaks for itself.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference