Kobe Bryant recently said Tracy McGrady was the toughest opponent he ever guarded. So, when TMZ caught up with T-Mac the other day, he reciprocated and bestowed his “toughest to guard” accolade on Kobe. When asked about Michael Jordan, McGrady said he never played against him in his prime.
As expected, social media and the internet swallowed up the fodder and the “Kobe tougher to guard than MJ” headlines were regurgitated quicker than sour milk.
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, let’s really examine what McGrady said and look at the numbers.
T-Mac and Jordan had eight meetings, three during MJ’s final season with the Bulls in 1997-98 and five times when he was scratching the itch with the Wizards. Not surprisingly, the younger and coming-into-his-prime McGrady outscored the fading superstar 24.1 to 20.9 in those eight games.
In their head-to-head matchups in 1997-98—McGrady’s rookie year with the Raptors—the Bulls won the first two games in blowout fashion, and neither Jordan or McGrady played more than 30 minutes in either game. Jordan outscored him 27 to 22 in the two games. The third meeting was much more meaningful. Pushed by an overmatched Raptors team, the Bulls needed every bit of Jordan to post a 102-100 victory. Jordan played 41 minutes and outscored McGrady 33 to 12.
With the Wizards, Jordan surpassed 30 points once against McGrady. Clearly, T-Mac never saw Jordan’s best.
The Kobe matchup is a much fairer comparison as the two athletes, meeting mostly in their prime, faced each other 21 times. Kobe outscored McGrady by an average of nine points (26.9 to 17.9) and his team won 14 times. The two played each other almost dead-even from 1998 to 2005, but Kobe began distancing himself from the declining Rockets star in 2007, posting games of 53 and 45 points.
So, McGrady’s comment was not only correct but fair: Kobe was the toughest player he ever guarded. And, no slight was intended to Michael as page-view whores would like you to believe.