TIME Sports

Kobe Bryant v. Michael Jordan: Sizing Up the Greatest Player of All Time

2003 All Star Game
NBA All-Star Michael Jordan (L) of the Washington Wizards watches Kobe Bryant (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers miss his second free throw that would have ended the NBA All-Star game at Philips Arena on February 9, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

Bryant may be on his way to surpassing Jordan's career points this season, but other numbers tell the fuller story of who should go down in basketball history

The Los Angeles Lakers are off to one of their worst starts in franchise history. The early returns not only suggest that the Lakers will not contend for a title in 2015, they also suggest that the Lakers are unlikely to appear in the playoffs.

Although the Lakers as a team appear destined to struggle, one positive event seems quite likely. Entering the 2014-15 season, Kobe Bryant had scored 592 fewer points in his career than Michael Jordan in his entire career. And given how much Kobe is scoring in the first few games of the 2014-15 season, we can expect that Kobe — if he stays healthy and keeps his scoring pace — will pass Jordan before Christmas.

When this happens, people might be tempted to ask: Is Kobe “better” than Jordan?

Brandon Jennings, the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, already answered this question before the season started. According to Jennings, Jordan had more help winning titles. As Jennings noted, Jordan never won without Scottie Pippen, while Kobe won two titles without another “great” player. Therefore, Jennings argues that Kobe is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

I suspect that few people agree with Jennings. At least, I think most people will agree that Jordan did more in his career than Kobe. But I also suspect that Kobe is “like Mike.” In other words, I imagine many people think the gap between these two players isn’t that large. The data, though, seem to tell a different story. Jordan isn’t just better than Kobe; in fact, when we measure the difference, we see that no one should suggest these two players are similar.

The NBA tracks a variety of box score statistics to measure player performance. When we look at these numbers for Jordan and Kobe, it is clear that the former has a significant edge. For example, when we compare what Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls to what Kobe did for the Lakers (before this season), although their scoring totals are similar, Jordan was the more efficient scorer. With the Bulls, MJ had an effective field goal percentage of 51.83%. In contrast, Kobe’s mark with the Lakers is only 48.72%. To put that in perspective, the average shooting guard in the NBA (since the 1979-80 season when the three-point shot was added to the NBA) has an effective field goal percentage of 48.56%. In sum, Kobe has not been much better than average with respect to shooting from the field.

Jordan’s advantages with respect to Kobe, though, are not confined to shooting from the field. On a per-minute basis, Jordan also did more than Kobe has with respect to rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. Jordan was also less likely to commit turnovers, less likely to draw a personal foul and more likely to draw a foul. In sum, with respect to everything in the box score, Jordan was simply better.

We can do more than just stare at the numbers. The NBA’s box score numbers can also be translated into how many wins each player produces. What this analysis reveals is that wins in the NBA are primarily about gaining and keeping possession of the ball (rebounds, turnovers and steals) and then turning that possession into points (shooting efficiently). We have already seen that Jordan did more than Kobe with respect to all the factors that matter most with respect to wins. And when we turn to wins produced, we can see how Jordan’s impact on outcomes was so much bigger than Kobe’s.

Let’s begin with each player at his best. In 1988-89, Jordan produced 26.5 wins as a 25-year old shooting guard. Kobe’s best season was in 2002-03. As a 24-year old shooting guard for the LA Lakers, Kobe produced 13.0 wins. So each player hit his peak in his mid-20s (that is actually fairly normal for a basketball player). And at each player’s peak, Jordan was nearly twice as productive.

Across each player’s entire career (up until this season), it’s the same story. Jordan finished his career with the Bulls in 1998 (we will ignore his ill-fated return to the Washington Wizards when he was 38 years old). Here is what MJ did for the Bulls:

  • 35,887 minutes played
  • 204.8 wins produced
  • 0.274 wins produced per 48 minutes

Meanwhile, here are Kobe’s career numbers before this season:

  • 45,225 minutes played
  • 138.7 wins produced
  • 0.147 wins produced per 48 minutes

Again, Jordan’s production of wins dwarfs Kobe’s. And contrary to what Jennings argued, Kobe actually had better teammates across his career. Entering this season, Kobe’s teammates averaged 0.117 wins produced per 48 minutes. In contrast, Jordan’s teammates with the Bulls produced only 0.106 wins per 48 minutes.

So Jennings appears to be quite wrong. Kobe has not come close to Jordan. And I want to take this a bit farther. Kobe has also not been as productive as a few other shooting guards. For example, Kobe has produced fewer wins in his career than the career production of Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. And on a per-minute basis, Kobe has done less across his career than both Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade.

A key difference between Kobe and these players is shooting efficiency from the field. Each of these shooting guards were simply better than Kobe at getting shots to go in the basket. And that means each player had a larger impact on his respective team’s ability to win games.

Kobe’s inability to excel with respect shooting efficiently was noted recently in an article by Henry Abbott for ESPN The Magazine.

Bryant has fired away for nearly two decades. He’s fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, trailing only Kareem, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. He’s also just a few weeks’ play from setting an all-time league record for misses. “The problem is, he’s just not as good as he thinks he is,” says one source in the Lakers’ inner circle. “He’s just not as efficient as he thinks he is.

This passage essentially captures the weakness in Kobe’s game. Kobe will soon pass Jordan in scoring totals. But he will also soon pass everyone else in missed shots.

Those missed shots matter. The key to evaluating players is to make sure you measure accurately the positives and the negatives. In other words, accurate evaluation requires you get past the “scoring illusion” (i.e., placing too much emphasis on scoring totals in evaluating basketball players). When you take that step, it becomes clear that Jordan did much more than Kobe, and Kobe is nowhere close to being “like Mike.”

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University. He is the lead author of The Wages of Winsand Stumbling on Wins and continues to serve on the editorial board of bothJournal of Sports Economics and theInternational Journal of Sport Finance.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Testifies at Ray Rice Hearing

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Holds News Conference After Meeting With Team Owners
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell holds a press conference in New York City on Oct. 8, 2014 Andrew Burton—Getty Images

He would ordinarily hear such appeals, but as he is appearing as a witness a former District Court judge is arbitrating

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified Wednesday at Ray Rice’s appeal of his suspension from the Baltimore Ravens, after Rice was seen on video attacking his fiancée.

Goodell would ordinarily hear such appeals, but, since he is appearing as a witness, former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones is arbitrating the hearing, the New York Times reports.

Rice was suspended indefinitely from the pro-football team after TMZ released a video of him punching his then fiancée, now his wife, in an elevator in February.

Rice has argued that he is being punished twice, since he was banned from two games for domestic abuse before the video went public. TMZ’s video also set off a public maelstrom over violence in the NFL toward wives and girlfriends.

Read more at the New York Times.


The Stream Is Over: A-Rod Admits to Manipulating Drug Tests

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez wipes sweat from his brow as he sits in the dugout before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2013.
New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez wipes sweat from his brow as he sits in the dugout before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2013. Patrick Semansky—AP

Alex Rodriguez admitted to using PEDs from late 2010 to October 2012, according to a new report, and described his novel method for beating the tests. The lies will be his downfall

Alex Rodriguez, according to a synopsis of a January meeting between him and the feds cited by the Miami Herald, has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs supplied by Anthony Bosch, a fake doctor who ran a South Florida steroid ring. According to the Herald, Rodriguez copped to using PEDs between late 2010 and October 2012. That A-Rod did drugs will surprise no one–the slugger previously admitted to taking steroids in the early 2000s.

However, what’s especially revealing is the way in which A-Rod says he beat the tests. As the Herald reports:

Rodriguez also described how Bosch gave the ballplayer “tips on how to beat MLB’s drug testing,” according to the DEA report.

The secret? According to Rodriguez, “Bosch advised him to only use mid-stream urine for MLB drug testing. Bosch told Rodriguez not to use the beginning or the end urine stream.”

It worked. A test he took while using the drugs came up negative.

Could this strategy have possibly worked? Victor Conte, founder of the infamous BALCO lab that created designer PEDs, calls it “good instruction” for avoiding detection. “I do think there is a different concentration of metabolites in the first portion of a urine stream,” says Conte. However, Conte doesn’t think submitting the end of the stream would increase an athlete’s likelihood of getting caught.

Don Catlin, former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory – the world’s largest PED testing facility – disagrees with Conte’s assessment. He says the chemical makeup of the urine stream is consistent from beginning to end. “I think that’s nonsense,” Caltin says. “But it does speak to the difficulty of urine testing. There are lots of ways to wiggle around the actual test.”

Catlin says he’s seen Olympians carry a “bladder-type device” under their armpits, and squeeze someone else’s clean urine down a rubber tube taped to the penis. You can also stick, say, bleach on your fingers, and put your finger in the urine stream while taking the test, tainting the sample. “The bleach no longer renders urine a pure substance,” says Catlin.

In theory, testers should watch an athlete urinate to make sure the process is pure. “But leaning over and being aggressive,” says Catlin, “sometimes doesn’t happen. That’s the nature of life.”

The troubles with urine testing, says Catlin, eventually forced him out of the testing game. He knew too many athletes were getting away with things. Outgoing baseball commissioner Bud Selig touts his sport’s testing protocol as tough. And yet Rodriguez – and several other high-profile players – have shown they can beat it. No matter how Rodriguez did it, a positive test didn’t catch him. An investigation, and now this reported confession, did. “I don’t have the confidence,” says Catlin, “that baseball is doing it right.” This is coming from one of the pioneers of modern testing. And he says baseball’s not alone: you can’t be certain other sports are clean either.

Still, it’s Rodriguez who’s now going to face Lance Armstrong-levels of public scorn. Few sports fans have ever believed his innocence. But his posturing looks so noxious now. Last November, Rodriguez left a grievance hearing regarding his 211-game suspension after finding out that Selig would not have to testify. He ran over to the studios of WFAN radio, and denied to host Mike Francesa that he used PEDs.

It’s not the drugs that doom the steroid users. It’s always the lies. Baseball is coming off a charming post-season, with the underdog Kansas City Royals 90-feet away from sending a classic Game 7 into extra innings. Madison Bumgarner’s performance was historic.

Now, this off-season and into spring training, the A-Rod sideshow is back.

Read next: Prosecutors Allege A-Rod Paid Cousin for Silence Over PEDs

TIME Athletes

Watch Lionel Messi Tie Champions League Goals Record

Ajax vs BarcelonaFC Barcelona Lionel Messi celebrates his 2-0 during the UEFA Champions League group F soccer match between Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona in Amsterdam on Nov. 5, 2014.
FC Barcelona Lionel Messi celebrates his 2-0 during the UEFA Champions League group F soccer match between Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona in Amsterdam on Nov. 5, 2014. Olaf Krakk—EPA

The goal is Messi's 71st in 90 total Champions League appearances over the course of his career

The UEFA Champions League now has two goal kings. For the time being.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi moved into a tie with Real Madrid legend Raul for the crown of all-time leading scorer on Wednesday, with the second of two goals against Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA. Appropriately enough, the play is archetypical Messi, as the Argentinian started the play at the top of the box before servicing Pedro on the left wing, who in turn fed Messi’s continued run for a simple finish.

The goal is Messi’s 71st in 90 total Champions League appearances over the course of his career, an astounding feat considering that Raul took over 50 more appearances (142) with which to set his own record.

Even more astounding is that the record may add a third holder before long, as Ronaldo lurks just behind Messi and Raul with 70 goals in 107 Champions League appearances. Given that and both players’ youth (Ronaldo is 29, Messi is 27), it is likely that the La Liga rivals will trade the all-time mark between them over the remainder of their careers.

Ronaldo has had the better season of the two thus far, though, having gone on an absolute tear with 23 goals (and seven assists) in 16 games across all competitions.

Ronaldo will have his chance to equal (or perhaps surpass) Messi and Raul’s record on November 26, when Real Madrid takes on FC Basel. But even then, the mountain may be higher — Messi and Barcelona play APOEL Nicosia the day before.

This article originally appeared on SI.com


Report: Yankees’ A-Rod Told Feds He Used Banned PEDs

Alex Rodriguez
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (13) looks on prior to an MLB baseball game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 27, 2013 in Houston. Aaron M. Sprecher—AP

His reported confession is at odds with his public statements

Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez admitted to federal prosecutors in January that he repeatedly used banned performance enhancing drugs, according to a new report in the Miami Herald, despite 21 months of adamantly denying charges against him.

The “report of investigation” cited on Tuesday states the third baseman came clean on paying Biogenesis of America for human growth hormone injections, testosterone cream and testosterone lozenges. Eighteen days before his sworn testimony, in exchange for immunity, Rodriguez had defiantly issued a public statement: “I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances … and in order to prove it, I will take this fight to federal court.”

Rodriguez finished serving a 162-game suspension last week, the longest meted out for a steroid scandal because he was considered a repeat offender, and has returned to the Yankees lineup.

Read more at the Miami Herald.


Judge to Hear Ray Rice’s Appeal of NFL Ban

Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., in May 2014.
Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., in May 2014. Mel Evans—AP

The big question: When did the NFL see the video of the Baltimore Ravens RB punching his then-fiancée?

A U.S. judge will hear former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s appeal of an indefinite ban from the NFL on Wednesday and Thursday.

Rice will argue that the NFL has subjected him to double jeopardy by extending his two-game suspension after a video circulated of him punching his then-fiancée in an elevator. The critical question is whether the incriminating video was new evidence, or if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had already seen the video and punished Rice twice under the same set of facts.

Goodell, Rice, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, union attorney Heather McPhee and NFL attorney Kevin Manara will be among those called to testify, USA Today reports.

The U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones will hear the case, and the NFL Player’s Association counsel Jeffrey Kessler will represent Rice.


TIME Basketball

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Got Attacked in China by a Man With a Knife

Mercury v. Mystics
Phoenix Mercury Brittney Griner center (42) celebrates with teammates Candice Dupree (4) and Briana Gilbreath (15), after she scored and drew a foul against the Washington Mystics in the third quarter at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Thursday, June 27, 2013, Chuck Myers—MCT/Getty Images

Fortunately the injury was minor

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner was lightly injured in Shenyang, China on Monday after a knife-wielding man attacked her and two teammates as they were boarding a team bus.

“The guy was clearly either mentally ill or very drunk,” she told Associated Press. “It was pretty clear he had no idea who we were.”

Luckily, the injury was minor as Griner was able to go on to post 19 points in her Beijing team’s victory over Liaoning, China’s Xinhua News reported.

The star, who won this year’s WNBA title with the Phoenix Mercury, and is on the U.S. national team, is playing in China during off-season.

Griner assured everyone she was okay via her Instagram account after the incident, and called the cut on her elbow a “little scratch.”


Vikings’ Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor

Adrian Peterson, Ashley Brown Peterson, Brian Wice
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, center, arrives at the courthouse with his wife Ashley Brown Peterson, right, and attorney Brian Wice, Nov. 4, 2014, in Conroe, Texas. Pat Sullivan—AP

It's unknown if Peterson will face further discipline from the Vikings or the NFL now that his case has been resolved

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson pled no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault on Tuesday, thus resolving his alleged child abuse case.

Per terms of the agreement between Peterson and the prosecution, the plea makes no reference to family violence or violence against a minor. Peterson must pay a $4,000 fine, will be placed on probation and will be ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.

Peterson does not have to serve jail time.

ProFootballTalk.com initially reported Tuesday morning that Peterson would agree to the deal the same day. It was reported Sunday that Peterson and his representatives were having discussions about a potential plea agreement and that one could be completed as soon as Tuesday.

Peterson was indicted by a grand jury in Texas in September on felony charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after authorities said he hit his 4-year-old son with a switch. He faced up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the charges. A tentative trial date of Dec. 1 had been set, but the plea deal ends the legal process before any trial.

In the period following Peterson’s indictment, a newspaper report referenced alleged improprieties with his charity and other claims of illicit behavior, and prosecutors attempted to have Peterson arrested again after he admitted to smoking marijuana. Late last month, prosecutors attempted to have Judge Kelly Case recused from the case after alleging he was biased against them, though the request was denied.

While expressing remorse for his actions, Peterson maintained that he was merely disciplining his child and committed no crime. After his indictment, the Vikings deactivated Peterson for their Week 2 game against the New England Patriots before reinstating him the following week.

Pressure from the public, media and team and league sponsors, including Nike and Anheuser-Busch, led to Peterson being placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list until his legal case was resolved, effectively placing him on paid leave.

Only NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to remove Peterson from the list. It’s unknown if Peterson will face further discipline from the Vikings or the NFL now that his case has been resolved. It was reported last month that Peterson could be suspended by the league even if found not guilty of the charges against him.

News of Peterson’s alleged child abuse came in the midst of controversy surrounding the NFL and the issue of domestic violence, initiated by the Ray Rice case. Earlier in the week in which Peterson was indicted, video showing Rice striking his then-fiancée was released, leading to Rice’s release from the Baltimore Ravens and his indefinite suspension from the NFL.

The incident led to renewed attention on the domestic violence case of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was also then placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, and on the NFL’s domestic violence policy in general.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Baseball

Prosecutors Allege A-Rod Paid Cousin for Silence Over PEDs

Almost $1 million spread over several wire payments

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez allegedly paid a cousin almost $1 million to keep him from discussing the athlete’s use of performance enhancing drugs, federal prosecutors said in court documents filed last week, according to a report on Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege in the documents that Yuri Sucart, who was Rodriguez’s personal assistant, had requested $5 million and a house in exchange for his silence, the Associated Press reports. In response, they add, Rodriguez gave Sucart $900,000 and provided him access to a home and car, as well as other benefits.

Officials released the documents after Sucart, who was charged in the summer with conspiring to distribute human growth hormone and testosterone, requested a public defender in the case.


TIME College football

Auburn Helmet Worn During Iron Bowl Sells for $47K

A member of Auburn Tigers cheer team waves a flag during their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 30, 2013 in Auburn, Ala.
A member of Auburn Tigers cheer team waves a flag during their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 30, 2013 in Auburn, Ala. Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

Headgear worn by kick returner Chris Davis

The helmet that Auburn kick returner Chris Davis wore during last year’s Iron Bowl sold on Sunday for more than $47,000.

The headgear, which was signed by Davis and earned $47,190 as part of an auction, went to an Auburn alum, ESPN reports.

Davis had returned a missed 57-yard field goal by the rival Alabama Crimson Tide for 109 yards, winning the game and sending the Tigers on to the championship.


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