If he made an unusually splendid play and glanced into the stands for approval, entire sections would swoon. Command of the room. That’s what Jordan had. Kobe doesn’t have it, and he never had it. That will always be the difference between them.
To repeat myself this quest to define the Jordan/Kobe difference in terms of ineffable qualities is silly. Both Jordan and Kobe are shooting guards who won many championships playing for teams coached by Phil Jackson. But Jordan’s brass-tacks basketball performance was much better:
When Kobe Bryant was 21, he put up 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Jordan got 6.5 rebounds, offered 5.9 assists, and scored 28.2 points. And not because he was shooting more, because he was shooting better with a TS% of .592 to Kobe’s .546. In Kobe’s most efficient scoring season, he put up a .580—worse than Jordan’s rookie year. Jordan did better than that in six different seasons, and maxed out at .614 in the 1988-89 season. In Kobe’s most prolific scoring season he got 31.1 points, in Jordan’s most prolific season he got 33.4 points per game. Jordan consistently snagged more rebounds and dished out more assists.
Jordan was a better rebounder and better passer, a more efficient scorer who also scored more total points. You don’t need to reach for intangibles to see the difference.