There are only a handful of players who can reasonably challenge Michael Jordan’s status as the GOAT. LeBron James, of course. Some players that came before the ’90s (Magic, Kareem, Dr. J). And the Mamba.
As the NBA season finally resumed, fans are reeling from Kobe Bryant’s premature death all over again. In addition to a hand full of rings and the undeniable title as the best in the league while they played, Jordan and Bryant actually shared something else in common: a trainer who helped them get to the highest level.
The trainer’s thoughts on Kobe Bryant
Tim Grover, the man who trained both Jordan and Bryant, recently spoke to GQ Magazine about what, in his mind, separated them.
“One of the biggest differences between the two is Michael always knew when it was enough and he would listen to you. If you said, ‘That’s it,’ then that’s it. With Kobe, to him, ‘That’s it’ means that’s it for that moment, but three hours later, I can start back up again.”
With Grover, Jordan was willing to do whatever it took. He’d work until the trainer said he was done. But Bryant would go until he had literally nothing left. He lived his life on and off the court with Mamba Mentality and he simply couldn’t turn it off.
He always wanted to win, and he wouldn’t let anyone be better than him. But that’s not uncommon among basketball players, especially in the NBA. What truly set Bryant apart was his incredible control.
He always gave 100% but knew when to throttle it back. While other hugely competitive players racked up dozens of technical fouls over their careers, Bryant retired with only six.
A technical foul is a massive blow to a team. It’s basically giving free points away and can even lead to ejections. Every moment on the floor, Bryant gave it all he had. But he never let his competitive drive get in the way of winning the game. DeMarcus Cousins (another great player) managed to triple Bryant’s career total over a 65-game season.
Michael Jordan’s career vs. Kobe Bryant’s
This concentration and control led Bryant to capture five NBA championships. One short of Michael Jordan, but the men played in different eras.
Bryant made the all-NBA first team 11 times to Jordan’s 10. Comparing their stats to determine who was “better” is unlikely to determine a winner so it makes more sense to focus on what made them different as players.
As stated above, trainer Grover found that Bryant was willing to focus on improvement almost to the point of injury, whereas MJ would be willing to complete the workout and head out for the day (perhaps to a nearby golf course).
Most of Jordan’s career was covered at least somewhat in The Last Dance, and one of the takeaways is just how many incredible players he surrounded himself with. Pippen, Rodman, even Paxson — MJ could rely on the players around him and often did, putting up incredible stat lines.
The bottom line on Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
Bryant did more with less, which may have been both the cause and effect of his incredible drive. After Shaquille O’Neal left LA, critics said Bryant would never win another title. But he persevered and won back-to-back rings in 2009 and 2010 with weaker teams than Jordan ever took to the finals (though nothing like LeBron James’ 2007 teammates).
The basketball world will likely not be over Bryant’s death for a long, long time. As teammates and fans work through grief, it doesn’t make any sense to compare his skills or greatness to Jordan and James. But even Bryant’s trainer (who had firsthand experience with Jordan) had to remark on his incredible drive.