Game Thread #66: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors - Kobe or MJ? Depends on your age

Tonyrobles_monta-kobe_medium

Warriors (W-L): 18-47

Lakers (W-L): 41-13

Tip Off: 7:30 Pacific Time

TV: ESPN

Radio: KNBR

Blog Buddy: Silver Screen and Roll

It's mid-March, the Warriors (18 wins) are the 3rd-worst team in the Association and the Lakers (18 losses) are on their romp to the Finals. The Lakers, on the road, are 8-point favorites and the over/under is 223.5. So, let me get the two biggies as it would pertain to a normal game preview out of the way: Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry? They struggle against the Lakers...

Curry has averaged 13.0 points on 34.8 percent shooting - including 2 of 16 from 3-point range - in the three games, while Ellis averaged 20.0 points in two games - 5.6 less than his team-leading average.

And secondly, Kobe Bryant is in town, on three days' rest. But do we really care about this game? Does it matter to us if Kobe scores 30, 40, fifty, against this Warriors defense? Against D-Leaguers (btw, kudos to Reggie Williams for getting his 2nd 10-day contract)? Nah, let's talk about something else. Something bigger. Something we might really care about.

So anyways, back on Friday, Kobe had his 7th game-winning shot this season, victimizing the Toronto Raptors. Of course, once I heard he had as many game-winners as the Nets have wins this year, I had to google around to see if he had as many career game-winning shots as Michael Jordan. The results seemed to conclude that Kobe has more game-winners than MJ, although I have not found the definitive blogpost anywhere, that would look like an indisputable, credible study. There are many forums out there that talk about this, and the discussion -- not that I'm bringing up anything that's revolutionary -- is quite divisive. With that, I present this poll which is the part of the thesis of this post (disguised as a game preview, as it were!)...

Why 34 years of age or older for this poll, you ask?

Well, here's my theory. MJ was born in 1963. By the time there was general consensus that he might be "out of this world", it was about the 1986-87 season, when he averaged 37.1 ppg and became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 total points in one season. This was the year before he ended up on the path towards getting beat up by the Bad Boys for three consecutive post-seasons. By the time he was unanimously accepted as a champion and not poo-poo'ed as a "ball hog", it was hugging his first trophy, after beating the Lakers in the 1991 Finals.

But being a mere champion versus being the Greatest Of All Time are different things. Unless you were a devout follower of MJ or the NBA, the realization that he could possibly be the G.O.A.T. could not have set in earlier than after MJ recorded his third straight title. After all, the Pistons had won two in a row prior to the Bulls' run of two in a row. People knew Isiah Thomas was great, but he certainly was not being considered the greatest point guard of all time, even after title number two.

At the same time, I would guesstimate that avid NBA followers start watching games intently and intelligently no earlier than age 16, if not, then 18 and maybe even more-so at age 20 assuming you went to college and spent your freshman and sophomore years adjusting to the rigors of higher academics, dorm life, and the like.

It should come as no surprise that such claims are heavily influenced by my own experiences. When I was sixteen, I was busy trying to make the varsity high school team. I liked how Magic Johnson played when I was a middle schooler, and I tried to emulate his dribbling and bullet passes, but really, how do you emulate that when no one's even taught you the fundamentals of how to play the game? Back in the day, the fundamentals were taught in high school.

So while MJ was tearing up the league at 37.1 per every other weeknight, we were busy in practice. He was certainly not on TV all that much -- hard to believe now, isn't it? So while I was 17, I knew what MJ could do having watched him drop 63 on the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs, but I wasn't necessarily watching him all the time. And even if there were such a thing as TNT back then, how could I possibly have the basketball knowledge to translate what he did on the court to what I did on the court? I couldn't intelligently process MJ. It wasn't until college when I had near-unlimited time at the university rec center, when the defending champion Bulls were on WGN, and when I could study the man's footwork and see how fundamentally sound he was. So, that's why I say, at age 20 you're probably ready to intelligently follow the NBA.

Therefore, doing the math, there is no way you could possibly comprehend MJ being the best ever, then relate that back to the years that you saw him play leading up to that, unless you were at least 16 years old by the end of the first three-peat, the 1992-93 season. That puts your birth year no later than 1976.

As I was researching this post, I started with that now-pivotal day: December 2nd, 1987. Not that I knew the exact date as I do now, but I knew what had happened that day. This is because other NBA stars would talk about it years later (someone, please YouTube that!), in VHS montages such as Come Fly With Me. I wish I could've seen this game live.

Incidentally, Phil Jackson was not his coach at the time -- it was Doug Collins. So whatever Phil has to say about MJ, remember, he didn't witness all of his amazing feats, particularly those that involved attacking the rim with almost reckless abandon.

Early in the game, MJ receives a post entry pass while John Stockton is guarding him. MJ spins around and immediately jams it before the help arrives. Someone in the stands says something to the effect of, "Pick on someone your own size!"

Later that half, MJ is on a fast break and posterizes 6'11" Mel Turpin, in similar style to what Vince Carter did to that 7-foot French guy. As he goes back on defense, MJ turns to the fan and says, "Is that big enough for you?"

So all of these things that Kobe does, I can't help but translate it back to MJ. Could Kobe have done that? Perhaps. I'm just not sure he has the showmanship. The ability to turn a detractor into a believer. I look at Kobe and everything he does, I know MJ could have done those things too. I watch highlights of MJ and I'm not so sure Kobe can do what MJ did.

As it turns out, YouTube led me to this longer nine-minute video of MJ highlights from that game against the Jazz. Made me miss him so much. And I really never saw any of his regular season games until the 1992-93 season, when WGN was thankfully part of the cable package...

But the thing that tips the scale is this studious rendition of the same game. By total happenstance, YouTube led me to this analysis of MJ, put in today's context of NBA rules, using the same footage from that game!. Excellent work, in my opinion...

To be fair, Kobe probably agrees with me. In fact, he's friends with MJ. GQ recently did a great interview with Kobe...

He doesn't give away much. Even when it comes to fairly innocuous info, he clams up. He won't say what he and his friend Michael Jordan talk about. ("That's sacred sh_t.") He won't let his personal trainer be interviewed. He won't divulge his special recipe for Cream of Wheat.

I do have reservations that the poll voting will obviously be skewed against Kobe, this being a Warriors blog and all. But for those of you who are making a rare visit to this site, please know that the Bay Area in general has plenty of Kobe fans. I run a weekend basketball league with over 100 teams and at least 50% of our people love him and have glowing things to say at the gym.

Well, I hope I've at least lit enough of a fire for you that we'll turn this here game thread into more than what it would've been otherwise?!...

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