By Skip Bayless
Page 2

Kobe Bryant is a little more gifted athletically than Michael Jordan was.

Kobe is a much better pure shooter. Kobe has risen into Michael's rare air when it comes to making great late shots. Kobe is a little taller, and just as quick and strong. Kobe plays with as much nightly energy and passion as Michael did, even on defense.

You can argue that Kobe is a little better looking. Kobe definitely is a more polished speaker. Kobe can be almost as charming as Michael, when he feels like it.

Chat with Skip Bayless
Skip Bayless chatted with fans earlier Friday in The Show.
So why won't Kobe Bean Bryant ever realize his dream of being the next Michael Jeffrey Jordan?

Because the same Kobe who is invincibly confident in his strengths is astonishingly unaware of his weaknesses.

Because the same Kobe who can be so worldly and bright can also be so sheltered and dumb.

More on Kobe
Page 2's Jason Whitlock has penned a letter to Kobe Bryant, advising him to shut his mouth.
Because Kobe is lost in his own private universe.

Kobe doesn't get it. Michael always did.

When I was writing columns for the Chicago Tribune, I studied Michael, and got to know him a little. Michael arrogantly strode through many of the same mines that are exploding around Kobe. Michael wasn't the best husband after hours. Michael punched out two nice-guy teammates during practice -- Steve Kerr and Will Perdue. Michael ran off a coach, Doug Collins, in part because of their soap-opera feud. Michael was often at war with an opposing player or the Chicago media.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe can't keep his mouth shut -- and he's getting killed as a result.

Yet many of these potential bombs went unreported because Michael never lit the fuse by answering questions about them.

Amazingly, Michael did not step on one mine, while Kobe all but plays hop-scotch on them. No matter how many risks Jordan took, he maintained a superstar-next-door image that hypnotized male and female consumers of all ages. It's as if Kobe, who so desperately wants to be loved, is hell-bent on committing image suicide.

Michael played the media as street-smartly as he played basketball. No matter how many stories circulated among reporters about Michael's carousing, none hit print. That's because Jordan was far too shrewd to answer questions that were even slightly controversial. Bring up anything personal with Michael, and a reporter might feel as if he were about to get punched out. Michael can be truly dagger-staring intimidating. Kobe, with his new tattoos, can only act intimidating.

Some of the raw, real Michael first surfaced in Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules." Yet Jordan refused to comment on the book, which CAME! and went. A woman claiming to be a former mistress of Michael's sold her story to the National Enquirer as Michael wound up his career in Washington. But he had no comment and the story did no damage.

Many NBA sources believe Jordan took many more risks than Kobe has. Yet not once was Jordan accused of rape. Michael, from the tough side of Wilmington, North Carolina, has razor-sharp survival instincts. Kobe is still pretty much a spoiled-rotten brat from upper-crust Lower Merion, PA.

Kobe would have made a great coach-firing rock star of a tennis player. Unfortunately, the game he chose requires four teammates.

Michael's marital problems briefly hit the papers, but Jordan defused them. His wife, Juanita, has always managed to avoid the cameras and the spotlight. Many Michael fans wouldn't know her name or her face.

Kobe's wife, Vanessa, has become almost as recognizable and controversial as her husband is. Michael married a virtual saint. You wonder about Kobe's choice.

So how would Michael have handled the mess in which Kobe found himself with the teammate he called a "big brother and mentor," Karl Malone? The same way Kobe tried -- and failed -- to defuse it. Vanessa claimed Malone made a pass at her in near-full view of courtside fans at a Lakers game. Kobe flew into a jealous rage -- just what Vanessa wanted? -- and called Malone to tell him that if he ever so much as looks at Vanessa again ...

We know this because we read all about it.

Kobe said the Malone camp, led by agent Dwight Manley, began leaking details of Vanessa's claim to the media. Kobe said several reporters asked him about it, on and off the record, and that he refused to comment. Wise idea. So why did the story explode onto the nation's water-cooler stage?

Because Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, one of the few reporters Kobe trusts, asked Kobe about the rumors. Kobe, who prides himself on being a stand-up guy, acknowledged them. Then Simers called Manley, who cut loose with the juicy details.

Image suicide. A kid who can be so stubbornly aloof and private spilled his dirty laundry all over America's floor. Astoundingly, the bridge had been burned between Kobe and Malone, the one respected player who had always had Kobe's back, on the court and during interviews.

Yet on Wednesday, it was as if Kobe woke up and saw something in the paper that made him think that, Gee, maybe some people are getting the wrong idea about me. I'd better go on TV and correct that!

He contacted ESPN and spent "Five Good Minutes" on "Pardon the Interruption" and the entire half-hour of "NBA Fastbreak." Michael never addressed the media unless he looked like a billion dollars in trend-setting suit-and-tie ensembles. Kobe wore a warmup top. Michael never would have subjected himself to potential controversial questions on live TV without being thoroughly coached by his advisors and completely prepared to respond with convincing, crowd-pleasing answers. Kobe, who thinks he's above coaching, made himself look even worse.

Why hasn't he called Shaquille O'Neal to apologize for telling Eagle, Colo. police that Shaq has paid hush money to women?

"I didn't have his number," Kobe said, lamely.

At least Kobe could have explained that, when the authorities interviewed him shortly after the alleged incident in Eagle, he was scared and not thinking straight and he blurted something that he never thought would be leaked to reporters. But no.

Michael Jordan
MJ dominated people because of his smarts -- something Kobe hasn't figured out.

No game plan. No clue.

How would Michael have handled a shot similar to the one Seattle's Ray Allen took at Kobe during the preseason? Allen questioned Kobe's leadership because Kobe, he said, was too selfish. Michael Jordan was the most selfish gunner in basketball history. But Michael was coachable. Michael learned from Phil Jackson -- the coach who finally gave up trying to coach Kobe -- that he needed to bring out the best in his teammates and the worst in his rivals.

Michael would have flown into a joyful rage over Allen's blast. If Michael didn't have a feud with a rival player or coach, he invented one. Michael needed a reason -- real or imagined -- to teach his most dangerous rivals a lesson.

Yet Michael taught his on the scoreboard. Kobe gets even in the box score.

Tuesday night's game in Seattle was the be-careful-what-you-wish-for essence of the Kobe who wants to prove He Alone can win without Phil and Shaq. Kobe got even with Allen by turning into precisely the player Allen said he would be -- a self-absorbed superstar who considers teammates necessary evils at best. Kobe's sole goal was to outscore Allen, which he accomplished, 35 points to 26.

But Allen's teammate, Rashard Lewis, scored 37. Kobe's teammate, Lamar Odom, scored eight. Seattle won 108-93.

Michael's sole goal would have been to humiliate Allen's team in front of its fans. Before the game, Michael would have put the fear of, well, Jordan, in his teammates. Michael's teammates feared him more than they loved him. They were afraid not to make the open shots he created for them.

Michael made a psychological study of how to turn Scottie Pippen into a trustworthy sidekick. Michael broke him down and built him up and learned how to play to Pippen's strengths. If Michael were in Kobe's shoes, he would be turning the wondrously skilled, 6-foot-11 Odom into a secondary star.

At Seattle, Michael would have made sure Odom was far more than a spectator. Kobe needs Odom. But don't try to tell him that.

The Lakers, he said on ESPN, are now "a brotherhood."

Of one.

Skip Bayless joined ESPN after a career as a sports columnist that includes stops in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose. He can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m., ET, on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column will appear weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.




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KOBE VS. MJ