NBA, Smack / Mar 14, 2014 / 1:00 pm

Durant Says Kobe Bryant & Michael Jordan Are “Neck And Neck As Far As Skill”

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant (Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

The back-and-forth bar discussions about the greatest basketball player of all-time usually stop and start with Michael Jordan. Most rational basketball fans agree he’s the GOAT, but in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Daily News as part of their profile, Kevin Durant claimed that Kobe Bryant was the greatest ever and Mamba and MJ were “neck and neck as far as skill.”

The Los Angeles Daily News‘ Mark Medina wrote an excellent profile of KD during the Thunder’s home-and-home with the Lakers this week. Medina gets some amazing quotes from the subject of his piece, his coach Scott Brooks and teammate Derek Fisher, who has won five titles with Bryant, and also played with Durant the last two seasons.

It seems Durant has struck up a late-night phone friendship with the Mamba, and his venerated thoughts on Kobe’s skill, especially in comparison to MJ, speak of a deep respect from both sides:

Durant downplayed the MVP race with [LeBron] James, saying, “I want to be known as a winner.” But Durant described himself as a basketball historian, visiting Wikipedia every day to read up on NBA greats, ranging from Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Adrian Dantley and Bryant. And from their time together on one U.S. Olympic team, three joint All-Star appearances and late-night phone calls, Durant strongly credits Bryant’s unspecified feedback for spurring his development.

“He’s the greatest of all time. His skill is second to none. Him and MJ are neck and neck as far as skill,” Durant said. “Kobe is the top two best ever in just having skill, footwork, shooting the 3, shooting the pull-up, posting up, dunking on guys and ball handling. Kobe and Jordan are 1 and 1A.”

Jordan acolytes — we’re probably one of them since we came of age when he was winning titles — just choked a little bit when they read that KD thinks Mamba and MJ are 1 and 1A. Personally, we think Durant got the order mixed up, but again, this is a generational thing. Durant is more than half a decade younger than us. So while we grew up watching MJ win titles, he grew up watching Bryant win titles (with Shaq, but still), and even played against Bryant near Kobe’s apogee as a leader when he won back-to-back titles with Pau Gasol right as the Thunder were coming into their own as a Western Conference force.

KD continued to wax poetic about Bryant later in the piece:

“When you look at me, Carmelo (Anthony), LeBron and Paul George, what we’ve done out there in this league is nothing compared to what Kobe did,” Durant said. “We live in a world of what have you done for me lately. We don’t remember the day before sometimes. Think back five, six, years ago what he was doing. It’s unheard of.”

But, contrary to all the goofiness off the court, Durant’s inability to get behind the Slim Reaper nickname (kudos!) and the popular assumption he’s a total dork, Durantula will absolutely go at Bryant on the court, and he thinks Kobe respects him more because of it:

“I’m going to go at him when I’m on the court,” Durant said of Bryant. “We’re going to throw elbows and talk trash. We’re going to talk (junk) to each other. I think he appreciates that’s how I play. I may be wrong. But I can sense when a guy has that mutual respect. I don’t give a damn who he is. He don’t give a damn who I am. We’re going to go at it.”

Who can forget KD’s cold-blooded, dare we say Reaper-ish, go-ahead three-pointer against Bryant’s Lakers in the waning seconds of the Western Semifinals in 2012:

Or Kobe’s hounding defense at the top of the key on KD back in December this season, during the brief window Kobe was healthy:

We love that KD and Mamba are late night text buddies and still go out and try to slit each other throatson the court. But we still think MJ is the GOAT, and probably always will feel that way while recognizing there’s a generational disconnect at play here, more than anything.

(Los Angeles Daily News)

Yawn, for the billionth time, who’s better: Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @SpencerTyrel.

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  • Guillaume Chorn

    I think he just meant in terms of skill. If you read KD’s words in context, he’s talking about how well rounded Kobe’s offensive game is (shooting, footwork, ball handling, etc) and comparing it to Jordan’s on that level. I don’t think he was actually saying that Kobe is the greatest (read: most accomplished) player of all time. That’s definitely still either MJ or Bill Russell.

  • Rico

    Go home KD your drunk.

  • spencer

    While I commend for you A) mentioning Bill Russell, who is still my pick for GOAT pre shot clock era, and B) making the case for context, which is always tricky for things like this as words get misinterpreted all the time.

    But, Kobe is the pronoun contraction KD is referring to when he says,”He’s the greatest of all time” in the first line, second graph of the first pull-quote above.

  • Guillaume Chorn

    And I commend you for your attention to grammar and syntax. Don’t worry, the literal interpretation of KD’s words certainly didn’t escape my notice either.

    However, I have to reiterate the importance of context. In his original quote, Durant said:

    “He’s the greatest of all time. His skill is second to none. Him and MJ
    are neck and neck as far as skill,” Durant said. “Kobe is the top two
    best ever in just having skill, footwork, shooting the 3, shooting the
    pull-up, posting up, dunking on guys and ball handling. Kobe and Jordan
    are 1 and 1A.”

    See the original article here: http://www.dailynews.com/sports/20140312/as-kobe-bryant-sits-it-out-kevin-durant-is-stepping-it-up

    KD is not paid nearly 18 million a year to speak with utter clarity and succinct eloquence; he’s paid that much to destroy opposing defenses. If you open your mind up to the possibility that he may not be a master of self-expression using words, and take the entire quote as a whole, you can see that what he most likely meant was, “Kobe is neck and neck with MJ as the two greatest players of all time in terms of skill.”

    And who knows, perhaps to a player as skilled as Durant (his game is largely one of finesse, after all), skill=greatness and so he really did mean that Kobe is the greatest ever. Whatever the case, he is clearly basing his argument on Kobe’s skill, as he makes no mention of championships, PER, number of regular season or Finals MVPs, etc. And based purely on skill level, there is an argument to be made for Kobe being neck-and-neck with MJ.

  • spencer

    I don’t want to draw this out any further than b/c everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but I linked to the original article two times above and read it a few times before publishing the piece. Context is important, as I mentioned, but so is diction. He said those words, which have meanings, and while I don’t necessarily agree with him, and you might, I don’t think he’s crazy for saying them. As I mentioned a few times in the piece, I think it’s a generational gap more than anything. I’m a bit older than those ppl who claim Kobe and MJ are neck and neck (including KD). I saw MJ and Kobe play at their peaks in real time, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. It’s an inexorable bar argument that will continue long after I retire and slough off this mortal coil.

  • Guillaume Chorn

    I guess you and I just don’t interpret his words the same way, so let’s agree to disagree. But I was born in 1984 so for me it’s not a generational issue. It’s an issue of nuance.

    My problem with these conversations is that they’re always so one-dimensional. It’s always just, “Who’s the greatest ever?”, followed by lots of shouting over rings, mvp awards, etc. The simple question of who is the “greatest” makes very little sense once you start thinking about it. Beyond being impossible to quantify, it’s not even possible to define clearly. That’s why I prefer questions that are a little more specific, like “Who’s the best low-post scorer ever?” and “Who’s the greatest in-game dunker of all time?” The answers to such questions might be equally impossible to quantify, but at least it’s clear to everyone what the criteria are. And I find it makes the ensuing debates a lot more intelligent and entertaining.

    Enter the “most skilled player ever” debate. I think that’s a much better place to start comparing Kobe and MJ because while it’s easy to assert that MJ was more accomplished or that he played more efficiently, it’s much more difficult to argue that he displayed more refined offensive basketball skill. But that subtlety is rarely addressed, which is why I appreciate KD mentioning it and I don’t want it swept under the rug as “just a generational thing.”

  • spencer

    I agree with everything you just wrote. Nuance is needed, and simply asking who’s better, something we do a lot here at Dime, makes it a more subjective, impressionistic exercise, open to interpretation. But when it’s all said and done, people want to know, or debate, who is better; simply — unfortunately, ambiguously — better. In that case I take MJ over everyone, but as far as who has more basketball skill, I think the Kobe vs. MJ debate has more legs. You’re right that KD offered an interesting debate by throwing “skill” into the mix. And you’re also right that simply labeling it a generational divide isn’t fair to KD or you or anyone that thinks Kobe might have some advantages over MJ, or that they’re neck and neck. I was merely talking about the people, generally much younger than me, who think Mamba was a superior overall player than Jordan. In terms of just offensive, or skill, actually has some merit, too, because Kobe’s range extended beyond the three-point line and MJ was never that dangerous from deep. In terms of overall skill, I take MJ again, but there is nuance even within that subset of the “who is better debate.” What, exactly, do you define as skill? These types of hypotheticals are so much fun because you can endlessly drop down to more niche discussions. I wish I could keep this discourse going since your responses are valid — something I wished more commenters picked up on — but I gotta get back to work. Thanks for taking such an interest and forcing me, or any other Dime writer, to better qualify their argument or assessment. It makes us better, and you might even change some minds.

  • SweetdickWilly

    I’d say Michael because he was smarter, more disciplined, better at self-accountability and a bit more consistent defensively. Kobe is prone to getting caught up in his ego at times and that’s a killer on the court and in the locker room. That’s a reason why Dwight left and his best and possibly last chance for a title or two. The fact that Pau may follow compounds that point. Jordan has/had an ego too but he managed his better for the most part. He wouldn’t have killed the Golden Goose. Kobe will have miscues during games that could be avoided by passing and or sticking to the system.

  • Rahefee Ali Al-imir

    No. Delight left because 1. Kobe don’t take no shit about the game. U play to win. 2. Kobe n the offense was already set and his game perfected so for delight to come in with his trash game… That takes a learning curve… A learning curve kobe already did with Shaq and Andrew. Also delight has star issues he doesn’t want anyone more popular or important than him. That showed on the court. He was a complete baby. If kobe could of gotten Andre Igudola we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

  • alex is a biiaaatch

    the reason why durant calls kobe the GOAT, is because he thinks the game is played on a skill basis. thats his own words.

    in that context, kobe is arguably goat. even phil jackson said that kobe is more skilled than jordan. however jordan had a slightly more athletic advantage than kobe had a slight more skilled advantage