Tuesday , Jul , 22 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe vs. Tracy

For almost two years now the debate of who is the superior player between Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady has been widely talked about amongst just about everyone. From the everyday people, like the street ballers, and co-workers at the water cooler, all the way up to TV basketball analysts, and sports writers around the nation, everyone who follows the sport of basketball seems to have an opinion on the matter.

Kobe vs. Tracy

While some say Kobe is the superior of the two, others go with McGrady or T-Mac as he is often referred as, and as both sides debate there is really no wrong answer. While neither of these two players are the best in the league (that honor goes to Shaq, no matter how many free-throws he may miss), they certainly are the two most intriguing.

Jackie McMullin of the Boston Globe stated that watching these two guys is like watching Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and while I see where she is coming from with that statement I beg to differ. Comparing Kobe and McGrady would be like comparing Magic to Magic, Bird to Bird, apples to apples, oranges to oranges.

Kobe and McGrady are defiantly not compared to each other because of an intense rivalry that pulls the two together in the way that Bird and Magic were, they are compared because their talents are eerily similar to one another. There is not a single thing on the basketball court that one can do and the other can’t, where Bird’s and Magic’s games were as different as night and day.

Indeed McGrady is the Yang to Kobe’s Yang, and Kobe is the Yin to McGrady’s Yin. It is irrelevant to try to use numbers when determining who is the better player between the two, and quite frankly it is a waste of time. These two are almost identical in every statistical category for their careers as well as this 2002-2003 season, and their statistics are too close to give one an advantage over the other.

Tracy McGrady over his 6 year career has averaged 20.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Kobe has averaged 21.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists over his 7 year career. Both have been selected to the All-NBA second team in their careers, and while only Kobe has been selected to the All-NBA first team, that will change within the next couple of months.

Neither have won an MVP award, although both have shown that they are worthy of the honor, and it is very unlikely that either one will as long as Kobe plays with Shaq, and as long as McGrady plays for Orlando.

Even when Kobe put together that string of 40 point games, in which he managed to average over 40 points a game for the entire month of February, McGrady averaged 35 in the same stretch, and has since gone on to score at least 35 in 9 more games.

Indeed it seems that McGrady and Kobe are equal in almost everyway imaginable……almost.

There is of course that one little category that sets the two apart, and that of course is championships. Kobe at the age of 24 has already won 3 championships in his first 7 years in the league, while McGrady has 0 in his first 6. Now it is easy to say that Kobe has the luxury of having Shaq on his team, and that if McGrady, and not Kobe played with Shaq on the Lakers, then McGrady would have the 3 championships that belong to Kobe. Now whether or not that is true nobody will ever know, but it is probable to believe.

However the real question that should be asked isn’t if the Lakers with McGrady and Shaq would win 3 straight championships, but whether or not the Magic would be a better team with Kobe, and it is probable to believe that the answer would be yes. Kobe has proven that when he is needed to carry a team on his back by himself he can, and while McGrady has defiantly proven that he can carry a team, Kobe has shown that he can do it better.

This was made evident during the first 12 games of the season, and in February when the team was still in danger of missing the playoffs. The fact that the Lakers went 3-9 when Shaq was out during those first 12 games isn’t relevant to Kobe’s performance, and with the way the rest of the team was playing over the 12 game span, not even Michael Jordan could have led the team to a winning record.

To say that Kobe was at fault for the Lakers horrid start is not just incorrect, but inconceivable. During that 12 game stretch Kobe averaged 29.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 8.8 rebounds per game, and recorded 2 triple-doubles. You try to find anybody in the NBA that would blame a guy for a team losing while putting up those numbers. And if Kobe doesn’t go for 40 a game in February, then it is very possible that the Lakers would be tanking for Lebron James right about now (they could use an improvement at the 3 spot), and not be playing for their 4th straight NBA championship.

While there is no right or wrong choice on who is the better player, there is a more appropriate choice, and that choice is Kobe Bryant.

What made the Magic/Bird rivalry so special were their meetings in the NBA finals. It wasn’t their styles of play, or their regular season confrontations that made it special, it were those finals appearances. Those epic battles that everyone who watched remembered. Their incredible wills to win, and their intense passion for the game.

It was Magic, as a rookie going for 41 points and 16 rebounds in game 7 of the 1980 NBA finals while filling at center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and beating Bird’s Celtics, spoiling Bird’s rookie season in which he was named the Rookie of the Year over Magic.

It was Bird averaging 27.4 points, and 14 rebounds a game during the 1984 NBA finals, in which Bird’s Celtics beat Magic’s Lakers in 7 games. Those moments are what made the two special. It was those moments that made not just a comparison between the two, but a connection, and it is those moments that will always make it impossible to say that one was any better than the other.

Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins never had a rivalry going, although they were both great players with similar abilities, and both were often compared to each other during their careers. However when you hear “Jordan/Wilkins” there is no automatic connection made between the two. There is no rivalry there. You think 6 NBA championships, and “greatest player to ever play the game,” when you hear Jordan, where with Wilkins you think of dunk contests. Until these two meet in the NBA finals, or at least until McGrady wins a NBA championship, the talks comparing the two will stay just that…..a comparison. This will never be considered a rivalry until McGrady makes it a rivalry, and while both will be remembered as great players, Kobe will ultimately be remembered as the superior basketball player.

Remember there is after all a reason why Kobe is also compared to another great player……Michael Jordan, and why McGrady is not.